118 Killed in Siberian Airplane Crash
By HENRY MEYER
A Russian passenger plane skidded off a rain-slicked runway early Sunday and plowed through a concrete barrier, bursting into flames. At least 118 people were killed and about 30 still unaccounted for, officials said.
The Sibir Airbus A-310 was carrying 200 people - a crew of eight and 192 passengers - on a flight from Moscow to Irkutsk. Many were children headed to nearby Lake Baikal on vacation, according to Russian news reports.
Rescue workers recovered at least 118 bodies, said a duty officer in the regional branch of Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry. The ministry said 54 people were injured, of whom 47 were hospitalized with burns.
Russian news agencies put the death toll at around 150.
The plane veered off the runway on landing and tore through a six-foot-high concrete barrier. It then crashed into a one-story garage, stopping just a short distance from some small houses.
A witness said he heard a bang and the ground trembled.
"I saw smoke coming from the aircraft. People were already walking out who were charred, injured, burnt," Mikhail Yegeryov told NTV television.
"I asked a person who was in the Airbus what happened, and he said the plane had landed on the tarmac but didn’t brake. The cabin then burst into flames," Yegeryov said.
Transport Minister Igor Levitin blamed the wet runway, Russian news agencies said, citing his comments in an interview with the news channel Vesti. The crash occurred around 7:50 a.m., apparently shortly after rain.
Irina Andrianova, a spokeswoman for the Emergency Situations Ministry, said it took firefighters more than two hours to put out the fire. There were two explosions caused by the ton of fuel in the plane, Moscow radio reported.
Russian television showed smoke rising from the wreckage and firefighters clambering on top.
"It was traveling at a terrific speed," the spokeswoman said. She said the front end of the plane was crumpled in the crash 2,600 miles east of Moscow.
Six people were in a critical condition, including a 10-year-old child, the medical emergencies center in Irkutsk was quoted as saying by the RIA-Novosti news agency.
The region’s acting governor, Yuri Paranichev, said that the aircraft’s two black boxes had been recovered and were being deciphered, ITAR-Tass agency reported.
Relatives of the passengers were expected to arrive later Sunday at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, from where the plane took off.
In May, another Airbus aircraft crashed in stormy weather off Russia’s Black Sea coast, killing all 113 people on board. Airline officials blamed the crash of the Armenian passenger plane on driving rain and low visibility.
In March 1994, an Airbus A-310 belonging to Russian state airline Aeroflot crashed near the Siberian city of Novokuznetsk, killing 70 people. Investigators said crash was caused mainly by the pilot’s teenage son inadvertently disconnecting the autopilot.
Sunday’s disaster was the fourth plane crash in Irkutsk in the past 12 years.
In January 1994, a TU-154 aircraft crashed on takeoff from Irkutsk, killing 124 people. In December 1997, an An-124 military transport aircraft crashed in a residential area of the city, killing 72 people. And in July 2001, a Tu-154 Russian passenger plane crashed near Irkutsk, killing all 143 people on board.
Sibir is Russia’s second-largest airline, carved out of Aeroflot’s Siberian wing after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Cash-strapped and saddled with aging aircraft, regional airlines whittled out of Aeroflot were once notorious for their disregard for safety but their records have improved in recent years.