Wreckage reveals 35,000ft death dive of Russian airliner

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The Independent Online

Associated Press

Moscow - The airliner that crashed in Russia's Far East earlier this month had gone into a sudden spin at 35,000 feet, leaving the 97 people on board no chance to survive, officials said yesterday.

Rescuers found the wreckage on Monday, 11 days after the Russian plane crashed on 7 December in a remote region north-east of the city of Khabarovsk. They saw a crater and debris of the Tu-154, indicating that the plane hit the ground almost vertically, the Itar-Tass news agency said. Investigators had not yet determined why the pilots lost control of the plane.

More than 50 rescue workers were combing the snowy mountain slope for the remains of victims and gathering fragments. Yesterday they found one of the aircraft's two flight recorders, which could shed light on the cause of the crash.

Experts do not rule out the possibility of an explosion on board, although they believe it unlikely. The more probable cause is failure of ageing equipment, since the Tu-154 had been in service for 19 years.

Officials planned to fly relatives of the victims to the crash site today, but could offer them almost nothing for identification. The blast dug a crater 2 yards deep and 40 yards across.

The debris was discovered accidentally by a helicopter that was not part of the rescue force. Authorities said rescue aircraft had flown over the site four times but failed to spot the wreckage because of difficult terrain and bad weather.

The Tu-154, carrying 89 passengers and eight crew, went off radar screens while flying from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, on Sakhalin Island, to Khabarovsk, on the mainland.

The jet belonged to Khabarovsk Airlines, a regional subsidiary of Aeroflot.

It crashed in the remote Bo-Jaus mountains about 34 miles west of the Tatar Strait.

The daily Segodnya quoted aviation experts as saying that only test pilots can sometimes get a big jet out of a spin, but ordinary crew members usually panic and fail to react in the minute or two they have before the plane hits the ground. A sudden spin also would explain why the Tu-154's crew failed to contact traffic controllers.