Russian airport reopens after deadly plane crash

People walk near the airport of Rostov-On-Don in Russia on March 20, 2016.
People walk near the airport of Rostov-On-Don in Russia on March 20, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (AFP) - The airport in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don reopened on Monday (March 21), two days after a passenger jet crashed there, killing all 62 on board, as investigators continued their probe into the disaster.

The flydubai Boeing 737, which took off from Dubai, exploded into a fireball on Saturday after missing the runway in southern Russia while making a second attempt to land in heavy wind and rain.

"The airport is now fully functional," an airport representative told AFP.

On Sunday, officials said workers finished clearing the runway of debris, which investigators said had been scattered up to 1.5 kilometres (one mile) away from the crash site.

Outbound flights resumed at around 0630 GMT on Monday, but incoming flights to the city of one million people were still either cancelled or delayed.

Investigators have launched a criminal probe into whether poor weather, a pilot error or a technical fault were behind the crash, which killed all 55 passengers and seven crew members on board, including nine different nationalities.

The plane's two black boxes were recovered from the crash site but were "badly damaged", Russia's intergovernmental aviation committee said.

It said the analysis of the flight recorders would take time.

Experts from the state-owned budget airline flydubai, a sister firm of Emirates Airlines, and the United Arab Emirates authorities are assisting with the probe, Russian investigators said.

Boeing representatives are also helping with the probe and are providing technical expertise, Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Dvorkovich said Monday at a government meeting to discuss the issue.

Although it is "too early to draw even preliminary conclusions," the Russian government may initiate amendments to regulations and air transport rules in the country if the probe uncovers "technical issues" were to blame, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said.

Russia's aviation agency has said there was no doubt about the safety of the runway or facilities at Rostov-on-Don and brushed off any blame directed at the air traffic controllers Strong winds were reported around Rostov at the time the Boeing 737 crashed, after circling above the airport for two hours.

It was not clear why the plane did not divert, and flight tracking service Flightradar24 said that another passenger plane made three attempts to land in Rostov but ultimately went to another airport shortly before the flydubai plane crashed.

The airline said the Cypriot pilot and Spanish co-pilot each had nearly 6,000 hours of flying experience.

Residents of Rostov-on-Don, which lies about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) south of Moscow, had laid toys and flowers at the airport entrance as they tried to digest the tragedy.

Russian airports have a patchy safety history, with the fatal private jet crash in 2014 that killed Christophe de Margerie, the French boss of oil giant Total, on take-off in Moscow one of a string of incidents.