Passenger plane crashes outside Moscow, killing all 71 aboard

Rescue workers at the crash site near Argunovo, outside Moscow, combing through the debris yesterday. The Saratov Airlines plane was carrying 65 passengers and six crew members when it crashed shortly after take-off.
Rescue workers at the crash site near Argunovo, outside Moscow, combing through the debris yesterday. The Saratov Airlines plane was carrying 65 passengers and six crew members when it crashed shortly after take-off.PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW • A Russian passenger plane carrying 71 people crashed on the outskirts of Moscow shortly after take-off yesterday afternoon, killing all on board, according to local news reports.

Flight 703, operated by Saratov Airlines, was carrying 65 passengers and six crew members from Moscow Domodedovo Airport to Orsk when it went down near the village of Argunovo, about 80km south-east of Moscow, The New York Times reported, citing Russia's Sputnik news agency.

Fragments of the plane and many bodies were discovered near Argunovo, the official Tass news agency reported, citing a spokesman for Russia's Emergencies Ministry.

"Debris has been found, there are no survivors," Tass quoted a source as saying, reported Reuters.

It was unclear if there were any casualties on the ground.

Russian media reported that the emergency services were unable to reach the crash site by road and that rescue workers walked to the scene on foot.

"The snow is deep; we need heavy-duty equipment," Mr Andrei Kulakov, head of Ramensky district, where the plane went down, said in an interview broadcast by the news channel Rossiya 24, reported The New York Times.

Emergency services said in a statement that over 150 rescue workers were deployed to the site.

Tass reported that the wreckage of the plane was spread over a wide area around the crash site. News agencies said witnesses in Argunovo saw a burning plane falling from the sky.

The Daily Mail cited an Interfax source as saying there were unconfirmed reports that the plane had collided with a helicopter from the Russian postal service.

Flightradar24, an air traffic website, posted on Twitter that the plane began descending at around 1,005m per minute five minutes after taking off at 2.21pm.

The Russian Transport Minister was on his way to the crash site, agencies reported.

It was not immediately clear what caused the crash. The Transport Ministry was considering various possible reasons, including weather conditions and pilot error, Reuters reported, citing Interfax.

The governor of the Orenburg region, where the plane was flying to, told Russian media that "more than 60 people" on board the plane were from the region.

President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to the families of those on board, reported Agence France-Presse.

"The President offers his profound condolences to those who lost their relatives in the crash," said Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

The national Investigative Committee said on its website that it had opened a criminal case over an alleged breach of aviation safety, reported Bloomberg.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2018, with the headline 'Passenger plane crashes outside Moscow, killing all 71 aboard'. Print Edition | Subscribe