Snow hampers probe of Russian crash

HUNT FOR CLUES::Wreckage is spread over more than 30 hectares and hundreds of people searching for bodies have been joined by about 100 investigators


Tue, Feb 13, 2018 - Page 6

Investigators yesterday scoured the scene where a passenger plane crashed near Moscow minutes after take-off on Sunday, killing all 71 people on board, in one of Russia’s worst-ever plane crashes.

The site of the crash was enveloped in heavy snow that was waist-high in places, making it difficult to access, with emergency workers forced to reach the wreckage by foot and use snowmobiles.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said it would consider explanations for the crash including human error, technical failure and weather conditions, as the country has experienced record snowfall in recent weeks. It did not mention the possibility of terrorism.

The Antonov An-148 plane went down in the Ramensky district about 70km southeast of Moscow after taking off from Moscow Domodedovo Airport and disappearing off the radar at 2:28pm.

“Sixty-five passengers and six crew members were on board, and all of them died,” Russia’s office of transport investigations said in a statement.

A Swiss citizen and a citizen of Azerbaijan were among the fatalities on a list released by the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations. Three children also died, including a five-year-old girl.

The flight was operated by the domestic Saratov Airlines and was headed for Orsk, a city in the Ural mountains.

About 100 investigators and criminologists were working at the scene, the Investigative Committee said.

The ministry said at least one of the two black boxes had been found.

With wreckage of the plane spread over more than 30 hectares around the crash site, it will take a week to inspect the whole area, the ministry said.

More than 900 people using equipment, including drones, were involved in the search operation, which has been reclassified as looking for bodies rather than survivors, the ministry said.

“We plan to carry out the main stage of the search operation in seven days because the plane debris is scattered over a very large area,” Russian Minister of Emergency Situations Vladimir Puchkov said at the scene, quoted by Interfax news agency, adding that “heavy snow” hampered searchers.

“We walked about 600 to 700 meters across a field, with snow in places waist-deep,” the ministry quoted Alexei Besedin, one of the first rescuers to reach the scene, as saying.

“I felt a shock wave,” said Maria, a resident of a village near the crash site. “The windows shook.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered “his profound condolences to those who lost their relatives in the crash,” his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The governor of the Orenburg region, where the plane was heading, told media that “more than 60 people” on board the plane were from the region.

The region declared yesterday a day of mourning with flags lowered and entertainment events cancelled.

With a population of 237,000 people, Orsk is the second-biggest city in the Orenburg region, near Russia’s border with Kazakhstan.