MOSCOW, Jun 21 – Forty-four people were killed and eight badly injured when a plane crashed onto a highway and burst into flames in northern Russia, narrowly missing an inhabited area, officials said on Tuesday.
The RussAir Tu-134 was trying to land at its destination of Petrozavodsk airport in the Karelia region in bad weather conditions but failed to make the runway and instead hurtled onto a road two kilometres (1.25 miles) away.
The 30-year-old plane broke up into fragments and erupted into flames as it made contact with the ground, the Karelia branch of the emergencies ministry said in a statement on its website.
In a catastrophic sequence of events, officials said the plane appeared to have hit a power line as it circled the airport in the bad weather, triggering a power cut which switched off the runway lighting.
"The plane sustained a hard landing two kilometres from Petrozavodsk," the emergencies ministry said. "Forty-four people were killed and eight people injured."
Images published on the ministry\’s website showed wreckage strewn across the road and an inhabited area perilously close in the background. The plane, flying from Moscow\’s Domodedovo airport, carried 43 passengers and nine crew members.
"The scene is terrible. It\’s carnage. It was a miracle that fragments of the fuselage did not hit houses on the edge of the village of Besovets," a source in the aviation industry told the Interfax agency. "Corpses are strewn over the highway," the source added.
The force of the crash scattered wreckage to a distance of 300 metres (320 yards), investigators said.
The head of the Karelia region, Andrei Nelidov, has travelled to the scene of the crash and will later hold an emergency meeting including prosecutors and the FSB Security Service.
Russia\’s Karelia region, which lies close to the border with Finland, is a picturesque area of lakes and forests hugely popular with Russian tourists for the summer holidays.
The spokeswoman of the emergencies ministry Irina Andrianova told the Interfax news agency that seven of the eight injured were "in an extremely serious condition" and all the casualties were receiving treatment for burns.
The lifenews.ru website said a child named as Anton Terekhin, 10, was among the survivors. The head of the emergencies ministry\’s regional operations, Shamstudin Dagirov, told Russian news agencies that a Swedish citizen was killed.
The head of the Petrozavodsk airport Alexei Kuzmitsky told Interfax that weather conditions around the airport at the time were "unfavourable" and Andrianova said there had been heavy fog and rain at the time of the crash.
"The Tu-134 hit a power line due to pilot error, cut it, depriving the runway of power," said Kuzmitsky. This version of events was also backed by Karelia\’s top safety official Nikolai Fedotov.
But the inter-state air commission (MAK), which investigates air accidents in the ex-USSR, it was premature to draw conclusions. The plane\’s black boxes have been located.
RussAir officials told Russian news agencies that the plane, made in 1981, had been completely checked before take-off and there had been no technical issues with the aircraft.
The spokesman of the Russian Investigative Committee Vladimir Markin told news agencies that a criminal probe was being opened into neglect of air transport rules.
Russia\’s aviation industry remains blighted by repeated accidents involving its ageing fleet of planes, with the Soviet-era Tupolev jets having a particularly poor safety record.
In April last year, a Tu-154 carrying Polish president Lech Kaczynski and other top officials came down in fog near the Russian city of Smolensk killing all 96 people on board.
Meanwhile, in September, a Tu-154 plane made a miraculous emergency landing on a derelict airstrip in Russia\’s remote Komi region after its electrical systems failed midflight.