Russian airliner crashes in Siberia killing 145

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The Independent Online

All 145 people on board a Russian airliner were killed last night after the plane burst into flames and crashed near Irkutsk in Siberia.

All 145 people on board a Russian airliner were killed last night after the plane burst into flames and crashed near Irkutsk in Siberia.

The Tupolev-154 disappeared from radar screens at about 9.10pm Moscow time (6.10pm BST). No one survived the crash, the Itar-Tass news agency said, citing the Russian Civil Aviation Authority.

It is believed the plane had made two abortive attempts to land and crashed on its third approach, dropping from the sky about 18 miles away from Irkutsk and bursting into flames. Officials initially said 133 passengers and 10 crew had died.

Edmund Musin, a regional official with the Emergencies Ministry in Siberia, confirmed the death toll, saying "they all died". He added that no casualties had been found on the ground.

The plane, operated by the Vladivostokavia airline, was on an internal flight from Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains to the port of Vladivostok in Russia's far east. The wreckage was discovered near the village of Burdanovka which is 2,600 miles east of Moscow.

A refuelling stop in Irkutsk had been scheduled and no problems were reported on take-off from Yekaterinburg.

The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, last night ordered an investigation to be headed by his Deputy Prime Minister, Ilya Klebanov, who also led the inquiry into last year's sinking of the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk.

The Emergency Situations Minister, Sergei Shoigu, was heading to the scene of the crash from the Lensk region of Siberia, where he was coordinating flood-recovery efforts.

Last night's crash will once again focus attention on Russia's abysmal air-safety record. The country has an ageing civil aviation fleet, mostly built in Soviet times, but has not suffered a major air disaster for several years.

In the early 1990s there was a succession of disasters as the 400 or so small domestic airlines which succeeded the state airline, Aeroflot, took to the skies after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Many of the new companies lacked the capital to buy new aircraft, failed adequately to maintain the aircraft they had, and allowed overloading that would have been unthinkable in the West. Horror stories of local airlines taking off with passengers and loose packages in the aisles and toilets, or children swinging from the levers on emergency exit doors were commonplace.

Possibly the most infamous Russian crash of the past decade came in March 1994 when a half-empty Airbus A310 belonging to Aeroflot crashed near Novokuznetsk, killing 70 people. The pilot's teenage son was later discovered to have taken the controls and disconnected the autopilot.

The most recent serious crash involving Russia was in October last year when all 82 people on board a military Ilyushin-18 died in a crash in fog near the city of Batumi. As well as service personnel, the propeller plane was carrying holidaymakers and 11 crew.

Although safety is believed to be improving pilots and aviation officials complain that chronic cash shortages mean still not enough money is available for training, repairs, maintenance and spare parts.

The three-engined Tupolev-154, first put into commercial service in 1972, is regarded as the workhorse of Russia's domestic airlines.

Decade of disaster

August 1993: 76 died when a Yak-40 crashed into a river in Tajikistan after take off.

January 1994: All 124 on board a Tupolev-154 killed when it crashed in Siberia, and a farmer on the ground.

March 1994: Aeroflot Airbus A-310 crashed near Novokuznetsk, killing 70.

September 1994: Russian Yak-40 crashed in Siberia in bad weather, killing 26.

April 1995: Ilyushin-76 crashed into volcano in Kamchatka, killing all 14.

December 1995: Tupolev-154 with 97 aboard disappeared en route to far eastern city of Khabarovsk.

August 1996: Tupolev-154 carrying miners and families to work on Spitzbergen crashed into mountaintop, killing all 143 on board.

December 1997: Antonov-124 crashed into Irkutsk. All 46 aboard killed and 80 residents on the ground.

October 2000: All 82 on military Ilyushin-18 died in a crash in fog near Batumi.