The pilot of a Russian passenger plane that erupted in a ball of fire on the runway of Moscow’s busiest airport, killing 41 people, said that lightning led to the emergency landing.
Investigators yesterday were working to understand the causes of the blaze after the Sukhoi Superjet-100 had to return to Sheremetyevo airport shortly after takeoff on Sunday.
However, pilot Denis Yevdokimov told Russian media that the craft lost communications and needed to switch to emergency control mode “because of lightning” on the Aeroflot flight to the Arctic city of Murmansk.
Photo: AFP / Gunkevitch
He did not specify whether 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.
Videos posted on social media showed the plane perform an emergency landing and then speed along the runway with flames pouring from its fuselage.
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.
Another video shot inside the cabin showed roaring flames outside the window and passengers crying out in panic.
Evdokimov said he believed the plane burst into flames on landing, most likely because of full fuel tanks.
At least two children were among the 41 dead, while nine others were hospitalized, three of them seriously injured, 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.
Several of the 78 people onboard said they believed lightning was the cause of the tragedy, which came at the end of several days of public holidays following Workers’ Day on Wednesday last week.
“I saw a flash of white light,” Dmitry Khlebushkin told the RIA news agency.
Pyotr Egorov, also onboard, told reporters: “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,” he said.
The jet — carrying 73 passengers and five crew members — left Sheremetyevo at 6:02pm and the crew issued a distress signal shortly afterward, officials said.
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