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Russian Airliner Crashes Into Highway, Killing 44 People

Russian Airliner Crashes Into Highway, Killing 44 People
Wreckage of Tupolev 134 plane, belonging to the RusAir airline, is seen on a highway near Petrozavodsk. Source: AP Images/Ministry of Emergency Situations press service

A passenger plane en route from Moscow crashed on a highway in northern Russia, killing 44 people and injuring eight as it tried to land in fog.

The Tupolev 134 operated by RusAir broke apart and burst into flames when it hit the road short of the runway in Petrozavodsk before midnight, Federal Aviation Agency spokesman Sergei Izvolsky said by phone. Petrozavodsk is about 700 kilometers (435 miles) north of the Russian capital, near the Finnish border.

Eight foreigners, including four U.S.-Russian dual nationals, a Swedish and a Dutch citizen and two Ukrainians, were among those killed, Irina Andrianova, an Emergency Ministry spokeswoman, said in a recording posted on the ministry website. The crash was probably caused by a combination of pilot error and bad weather, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said, according to RIA Novosti.

"Unfortunately, it reminds one of the recent disaster suffered by the Polish plane above Smolensk," Ivanov said, according to the state-run RIA news service. Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 other people including the country’s political and military leaders died in April 2010 when a Polish aircraft crashed as it tried to land in fog in Smolensk, Russia.

52 on Board

Investigators have discounted the possibility that the plane crashed because the lights on the airport runway weren’t working properly, RIA reported, citing an unnamed Transport Ministry official. The news service earlier cited Moscow-based RusAir as saying this was a possible cause of the accident.

RusAir, which caters to business travel and organizes charter flights, declined comment when called by Bloomberg News. Information on its website about its fleet was inaccessible.

The plane was carrying 43 passengers and nine crew members, according to the Emergency Ministry. The Tupolev 134 has a capacity of 76 passengers.

It was the deadliest commercial airline disaster in Russia since September 2008, when an Aeroflot-Nord Boeing 737 crashed near Perm, killing 88 people, according to the Aviation Safety Network’s website.

The plane was making its final approach in “adverse weather conditions,” the Interfax news agency reported, citing Alexei Kuzmitsky, head of the Petrozavodsk airport. Fog shrouded the airport at the time, the agency said, citing a person it didn’t identify.

Compliance Investigation

The regional transport prosecutor’s office is investigating safety compliance at the Petrozavodsk airport, according to RIA.

The eight survivors were taken to local hospitals and are in serious condition, the ministry said. Both of the plane’s flight-data recorders were recovered.

Images from the crash site posted on RIA Novosti’s website showed one of the plane’s engines amid broken-up debris near several houses.

Russia has been improving its airline-safety record, the International Air Transport Association said in a statement on its website issued June 20, hours before the crash. Still, it said “concerns remain with the continued operation of some Russian-built equipment that doesn’t comply with” standards issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

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