MOSCOW • Forty-one people were killed after a Russian passenger jet made an emergency landing at a Moscow airport, trailing a gigantic plume of flame and black smoke and skidding to a stop on fire.
A Russian law enforcement agency, the Investigative Committee, reported that 40 passengers and one crew member lost their lives. There were 78 people on the plane when it crashed on Sunday evening.
Investigators were yesterday working to understand the causes of the blaze after the Sukhoi Superjet-100 had to return to Sheremetyevo airport shortly after take-off on Sunday evening.
Flightradar24, which tracks transponders on airplanes, showed the jet looping once in the air before landing. Russian news agencies said the pilots landed on their second attempt.
Video showed that the aircraft was not burning on its final approach. It bounced on touchdown and caught fire as it struck the runway a second time.
Then the plane skidded along the runway with its nose angled upward, the engines scraping the ground and flames streaking out behind. Later, flames could be seen spreading on the pavement, suggesting that fuel was leaking. Fire crews sprayed the plane from trucks.
Dozens of people, if not hundreds, witnessed the crash from inside the terminal. "Right in front of our eyes, we saw an airplane on fire streaking down the runway," Ms Alyona Osokina, who was in an airport restaurant, told Dozhd television.
We had just taken off when the plane was hit by lightning... The landing was very hard, we almost passed out from fear.
PASSENGER PYOTR EGOROV
CLEAR VIEW OF TRAGEDY
Right in front of our eyes, we saw an airplane on fire streaking down the runway.
MS ALYONA OSOKINA, who saw the crash from an airport restaurant
Kommersant FM, a radio station, posted a cellphone video taken by a passenger on the airplane that showed a scene of panic and terror.
It showed a burning engine and flames at times obscuring the entire window. As smoke starts to fill the cabin, one woman screams. Another yells: "Help! Help!"
Passengers could be seen leaping onto an inflatable slide at the front and running from the blazing plane as columns of black smoke billowed into the sky.
Pilot Denis Evdokimov said lightning led to the emergency landing. He told Russian media the aircraft lost communication and needed to switch to emergency control mode "because of lightning" on the Aeroflot flight to the Arctic city of Murmansk.
He did not specify if the plane was struck directly.
"We managed to restore communication through the emergency frequency on our radio connection. But the link was only for a short time and kept cutting out... It was possible to say only a few words," he told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.
Several others on board also said they believed lightning was the cause of the tragedy, which came at the end of several days of public holidays following International Workers' Day on May 1.
"I saw a flash of white light," Mr Dmitry Khlebushkin told the state RIA news agency.
Mr Pyotr Egorov, also on board, told the media: "We had just taken off when the plane was hit by lightning... The landing was very hard, we almost passed out from fear.
"The plane bounced on the tarmac like a grasshopper and burst into flames on the ground."
Captain Evdokimov said he believed the plane bursting into flames on landing was likely because of full fuel tanks.
At least two children were among the 41 dead and nine more people were in hospital, three of them seriously injured, the authorities said.
The aircraft's black boxes have been found and handed over to investigators, a source in the Russian emergency services told news agencies.
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to the victims' loved ones and said the investigation "should be as thorough as possible", according to the Kremlin.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered a special committee to investigate the disaster.
The plane, built in Russia's Far East in August 2017, had been serviced as recently as last month.
After Sunday's accident in Moscow, an online petition was launched demanding that the Russian authorities ban the Superjet. It had been signed by almost 4,000 people as of yesterday.
Russian national carrier Aeroflot was once notorious for its poor safety record, but in recent years, its image has improved and it has not had a fatal accident in more than a decade.
However, the Russian Sukhoi Superjet-100 has been dogged with problems since its launch in 2011.
Asked by reporters at a news conference if the Sukhoi planes should now be grounded pending the outcome of the investigation, Mr Yevgeny Ditrikh, Russia's Transport Minister, said: "There are no grounds for that."
The Murmansk region - where many of those killed or injured are believed to be from - went into a three-day period of mourning from yesterday. Other Aeroflot flights are expected to be affected in the coming days.
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS