Russia Saratov crash: Investigators comb crash site near Moscow

Written By: BBC/Hunja Macharia
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Russian investigators are searching snow-covered fields near Moscow for clues why a passenger plane crashed.

All 65 passengers and six crew were killed when the Saratov Airlines jet went down minutes after taking off from Domodedovo airport on Sunday afternoon.

Officials say they are considering weather conditions, human error and technical failure as possible causes.

They did not mention the possibility of terrorism. The Antonov An-148 was en route to Orsk in the Ural mountains.

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It crashed near the village of Argunovo, about 80km (50 miles) south-east of Moscow. Wreckage and body parts are strewn over a large area – about 30 hectares (74 acres).

More than 700 people are involved in the search operation, struggling through deep snow, but aided by snowmobiles and nine drones.

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The country’s health minister said recovery of all of the victims’ remains could take up to a week. So far more than 200 body fragments have been recovered.

The emergencies ministry is collecting DNA samples from victims’ relatives – specialists have flown to Orsk to do that.

A child and two teenagers were among the passengers, most of whom were from the Orenburg region where Orsk is located.

The list is still being updated. Among those killed was a man from Switzerland and another from Azerbaijan.

At least 11 passengers were living in or near Moscow. Three were from the St Petersburg area.

At least eight passengers were from other parts of Russia, and four of the crew were from Saratov.

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President Vladimir Putin has expressed his condolences to the victims’ families. Both the US and the UK governments said they were “deeply saddened” by the tragedy.

The plane took off at 14:27 (11:27 GMT) on Sunday. Contact was lost minutes later.

Flight-tracking site Flightradar24 said it then descended at the rate of 1,000m (3,300ft) per minute.

No emergency call came from the plane, which was reportedly seven years old.

It was being flown by an experienced pilot who had 5,000 hours of flight time, the airline told Ria-Novosti news agency.

Eyewitnesses told Russian media that the jet was on fire as it plummeted.

A criminal inquiry has been launched for “violation of the rules for the operation of air transport, which resulted in the death of two or more people”.

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On Monday, emergency workers confirmed they had recovered the second flight recorder from the aircraft.

Saratov Airlines is based in Saratov, 840km south-east of Moscow.

In 2015 it was banned from operating international flights when surprise inspectors found someone other than the flight crew in a cockpit.

The airline appealed against the ban and changed its policy before resuming international charter flights in 2016.

Antonov aircraft were first developed in Ukraine, but are also made in Russia for regional airlines. The twin-engine model involved in Sunday’s crash had its first flight in 2004, and was developed for short-haul routes.

In 2011, one broke up mid-flight during a training flight in the Belgorod region in southern Russia, killing all six crew members on board

 

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