75 die in Russian plane crash

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The Independent Online

A Russian Defence Ministry plane with at least 75 people on board crashed into a mountain in Georgia while trying to land during bad weather yesterday, local officials said.

A Russian Defence Ministry plane with at least 75 people on board crashed into a mountain in Georgia while trying to land during bad weather yesterday, local officials said.

Rescuers reaching the crash site about 15 miles east of the city of Batumi found pieces of the plane and scorched earth. Georgia's Emergency Situations Department said all aboard were feared dead.

Russia's RTR television reported that bodies had been found, and showed footage of flaming pieces of wreckage lit by rescue workers' floodlights. The cause of the crash was not immediately known. The plane veered off course on approach in "difficult weather conditions," said Alexander Silagadze, head of the civil aviation agency Sakaeronavigatsiya.

Russian military officials said the plane, an Il-18 transporter with 64 passengers and a crew of 11, was at an altitude of 5,300ft near Mount Tirava when communications with it were lost, the Interfax news agency reported.

Both military and civilian personnel were aboard, Interfax said. Mount Tirava means "Weeping Mountain" in Georgian, RTR said.

Interfax said that passengers aboard the plane included a number of servicemen and their wives and children returning from vacation.

Although Russia and Georgia became independent countries when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, Russia still maintains a large number of troops in Georgia.

The plane was flying from the Chkalovsky military airfield outside Moscow to Batumi, which is home to a Russian military base.

It was a mail plane that made twice-monthly flights along the route, military officials said.

The Il-18 is a Russian-made, four-engine turboprop.

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