Air crash in Karelia claims 44 lives

Forty-four people, including eight foreigners, were killed when a Tu-134 passenger aircraft crashed in Russia's northwestern republic of Karelia, an Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman said on June 21.

The RusAir plane was en route from Moscow to Petrozavodsk when it crash landed on a highway one kilometer (0.6 miles) away from Petrozavodsk's airport, which was shrouded in fog. The aircraft broke up and burst into flames on impact. Eight of the 52 people on board survived and were taken to local hospitals including one crew member, female flight attendant Yulia Skvortsova. A Health Ministry official said six of survivers were well enough to be transferred to hospitals in Moscow.

"Health Ministry doctors have completed their examination of the victims. According to preliminary information, six people will be transported to Moscow for further treatment," said Sofia Malyavina, assistant to the health and social development minister. She added that two patients - a man and a 10-year-old child - were in serious condition, so the decision on moving them to Moscow had not yet been made. Sergei Goncharov, the head of the Health Ministry's National Center for Disaster Medicine, said earlier that a child had undergone vascular surgery at the Children's Hospital of the Republic of Karelia. The rest of the survivors have also received medical treatment, the official said.

Russia's Emergencies Ministry said that that among those killed in the crash were four foreigners - one Swedish and one Dutch citizen and two Ukrainians - and a family of four with dual Russian-U.S. citizenship.

Police and air crash investigators are at the scene. Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said various possible causes for the accident are being studied, including human error. He added that a criminal case into the crash has been launched. The aircraft's flight data recorders have been recovered. Investigators in Karelia have taken possession of the voice recordings between the air traffic controllers and the aircraft’s crew, according to regional investigators.

“The voice recordings of the air traffic control service at Petrozavodsk airport with the aircraft’s flight crew have been obtained, and information requested about weather conditions. Investigators have also taken documentation from Domodedovo airport [from where the aircraft took off] and fuel samples,” investigators said.

Eight investigators from Moscow are currently working at the crash site. Media have reported that the plane may have hit high-voltage power lines, but a local emergencies official said there were no such electricity lines in the vicinity of the crash site. "Investigators are working at the site, but as far as I know, there are no high-power electric lines in the area that could have been destroyed by the plane," the source said.

According to russianplanes.net, it entered service in 1980 and had 40,000 hours of flying time. It was mothballed in 2009 but was brought back into use by RusAir in March 2011. Leonid Koshelev, President of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Russia, an aviation lobby group, said poor state regulation of aviation and flight safety in Russia was probably partly to blame for the crash rather than the aircraft itself.

“The circumstances around any plane crash are very specific and I do not think the latest Tu-134 crash should be blamed on the poor safety record for this particular type of aircraft until an investigation of the accident comes up with solid evidence. The poor safety record for Russian aircraft on domestic flights is more likely the result of the lack of ‘well-oiled’ system of state regulatory bodies specifically dealing with flight safety. Rosaviatsia [the Federal Air Transportation Agency] is too busy performing a multitude of other tasks to pay close attention to flight safety and this burden lies mostly on airlines themselves,” he said.

The plane took off from Moscow at 22:30 local time (18:30 GMT) on Monday, June 20, and was due to arrive in Petrozavodsk at 00:04 on Tuesday (20:04 GMT Monday).

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