Russian plane crashes

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A Russian passenger plane with at least 170 people aboard crashed in eastern Ukraine today after sending an SOS message, emergency officials said.

The Tupolev Tu-154 plane, en route from the Russian Black Sea resort of Anapa to St Petersburg, disappeared from radar screens while flying over Ukraine around 2.30pm local time, Russian and emergency situations ministry officials said.

Minutes later, the Russian emergency ministry said wreckage from the plane had been found on the ground.

Russian emergency spokesman, Irina Andriyanova, said that 30 bodies had been found. She said there were 171 people aboard: 160 passengers, including six children, and 11 crew members. Ukrainian officials said there were 160 passengers and 10 crew members on board. The discrepancy could not immediately be explained.

The plane disappeared from radar screens two minutes after the crew sent an SOS signal, another Russian spokeswoman, Yulia Stadnikova, said. The plane belongs to St. Petersburg-based Pulkovo airlines, which is among Russia's largest air companies.

Rescuers were working at the site of the crash, found near the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, about 400 miles (640 kilometers) east of Kiev, Ukrainian officials said.

The Interfax news agency quoted Ukrainian Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Igor Krol as saying a fire broke out on the plane at 10,000 meters (32,800 feet) and that the crew decided to try to make an emergency landing. However, it quoted Russian aviation official Alexander Neradko as saying that the plane might have run into strong turbulence.

The incident was the third major plane crash in the region this year, and came less than two months after at least 124 people died when an Airbus A-310 of the Russian airline S7 skidded off a runway and burst into flames on July 9 in the Siberian city of Irkutsk.

On May 3, an A-320 of the Armenian airline Armavia crashed into the Black Sea while trying to land in the Russian resort city of Sochi in rough weather, killing all 113 people aboard.

Russian-made Tu-154s are widely used by Russian airlines for many regional flights.