At least 40 people on board a Russian Aeroflot passenger plane were killed when it caught fire while making an emergency landing at a Moscow airport on Sunday.
Television footage showed the Sukhoi Superjet-100 making the crash landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport with much of the rear part of the plane engulfed in flames. The harrowing video showed passengers leaping from the front of the burning plane onto an inflatable slide and staggering across tarmac and grass.
At least two children were among the dead, Russian investigators were cited by the Interfax news agency as saying.
Another 11 people were injured, said Dmitry Matveyev, the Moscow region’s health minister. Three were hospitalised but they were not in a serious condition.
Elena Markovskaya, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Investigative Committee, said early on Monday that 41 people were killed. But Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said later that 38 survived, implying the death toll was 40.
The airport said in a statement the plane turned back for unspecified technical reasons and made a hard landing that started the fire.
“Investigators soon will begin interviewing victims, eyewitnesses, airport staff and the airline carrier, as well as other persons responsible for the operation of the aircraft,” Investigative Committee spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko said.
Жесть конечно, ПИЛОТЫ МОЛОДЦЫ РЕСПЕКТ МУЖИКАМ. 78 пассажиров все живы pic.twitter.com/8HkhjwtrxP
— Артем Парсанов (@ArtemPetrovich) May 5, 2019
Seventy-eight on board
News agencies said the Sukhoi aircraft, which had been flying from Moscow to the northern Russian city of Murmansk before turning back, was carrying 73 passengers and five crew members.
Russian investigators said they were looking into whether the pilots had breached air safety rules.
“As the aircraft was gaining altitude, in about seven minutes into the flight and at about 10,000-feet altitude, the aircraft started to descend,” Anil Padhra, an aerospace engineer, told Al Jazeera.
“This shows that the pilots were aware that something was wrong with the aircraft. They knew that they had to get back to the airport.”
|Ambulances are parked in front of Sheremetyevo Airport to take survivors to hospital on Sunday [Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP]|
Citing an anonymous source, Interfax said the plane landed with its fuel tanks full because – having lost contact with air traffic controllers – it was too dangerous to dump its fuel tanks over Moscow.
“It attempted an emergency landing but did not succeed the first time, and on the second time the landing gear hit [the ground], then the nose did and it caught fire,” the source said.
The Flightradar24 tracking service showed the aircraft circled twice over Moscow before making the emergency descent and landing after about 45 minutes.
“We had just taken off and the aircraft was hit by lightning… The landing was rough, I almost passed out from fear,” the tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda quoted one passenger, Petr Egorov, as saying.
В аэропорту Шереметьево пожар. Горит самолёт. Никого из других самолетов не выпускают. pic.twitter.com/raX0n5VhrO
— Norenko Mikhail (@norenko_mikhail) May 5, 2019