118 killed in Siberia plane crash

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The Independent Online

A Russian passenger plane burst into flames after it crashed on landing in the Siberian city of Irkutsk today, killing at least 118 people. Russian news agencies said the death toll could be close to 150.

The Airbus A-310 plane, on a flight from Moscow to Irkutsk, veered off the runway as it was landing at about 7:50 a.m local time (2250 GMT Saturday), and hit a concrete barrier, Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova said.

Transport Minister Igor Levitin blamed the crash on wet runway conditions after rain, Russian news agencies reported. In an interview with 24-hour Russian news channel Vesti, he said the aircraft appeared to have skidded off the runway because of the wet conditions, the ITAR-Tass and RIA-Novosti news agencies reported.

Russian news reports said that many children traveling for a vacation on the nearby Lake Baikal were among the passengers.

Rescue workers who were sifting through the wreckage of the aircraft so far had found 118 bodies, said a duty officer at the Ministry's regional branch.

Interfax and ITAR-Tass reported that around 150 people had died, quoting a preliminary toll from the regional prosecutor's office and transport ministry.

Russian television pictures showed the wreckage of the aircraft, which crashed into one-story garage facilities on the airport perimeter after ploughing through the two-meter high concrete barrier, with a plume of smoke pouring from it. Firefighters in protective gear and helmets clambered on top.

The aircraft came to halt only a short distance away from a number of small residential houses.

The Ministry's regional branch said that 54 people were injured in the crash, of whom 47 were hospitalized with burns.

The Sibir aircraft was carrying a crew of eight and 192 passengers, according to the airline.

"The aircraft veered off the runway on landing. It was traveling at a terrific speed," Andrionova said.

The plane hit a concrete barrier, collapsing the front section of the aircraft, she said. It then burst into flames.

It took five emergency services more than two hours to extinguish the flames, Andrianova said.

The Ekho Moskvy radio station, quoting local reports, said that about a ton of fuel had remained in the plane, causing two explosions.

Six people were in a critical condition, including a 10-year-old child, the medical emergencies center in Irkutsk was quoted as saying by the RIA-Novosti news agency.

The region's acting governor, Yuri Paranichev, said that the aircraft's two black boxes had been recovered and were being deciphered, ITAR-Tass reported.

Relatives of the passengers were expected to arrive later Sunday at Moscow's Domodedovo airport, from where the plane took off.

An eyewitness, Mikhail Yegeryov, told NTV television that he saw passengers with severe burns escaping from the wreckage.

"At around 8 a.m, I heard a bang and the ground trembled, I saw smoke coming from the aircraft. People were already walking out, who were charred, injured, burnt," he said.

"I asked a person who was in the Airbus what happened, and he said the plane had landed on the tarmac but didn't brake. The cabin then burst into flames," Yegeryov said.

In May, another Airbus aircraft crashed in stormy weather off Russia's Black Sea coast it was readying to land, killing all 113 people on board. Airline officials blamed the crash of the Armenian passenger plane on driving rain and low visibility.

In March 1994, a half-empty Airbus A-310 belonging to Russian state airline Aeroflot crashed near the Siberian city of Novokuznetsk, killing 70 people. Investigators said crash was caused mainly by the pilot's teenage son inadvertently disconnecting the autopilot.

Sunday's disaster was the fourth air crash in Irkutsk in the past 12 years.

In January 1994, a TU-154 aircraft crashed on takeoff from Irkutsk, killing 124 people. In December 1997, an An-124 military transport aircraft crashed in a residential area of the city, killing 72 people. And in July 2001, a Tu-154 Russian passenger plane crashed near Irkutsk, killing all 143 people on board.