Moscow, June 21 : At least 44 people, including Russia's top nuclear design scientists and eight foreigners, were killed today when a passenger plane crash landed and burst into flames on a highway in heavy fog as the pilot apparently mistook it for the runway in Karelia region.
The Tu-134 plane belonging to the Rus-Air airlines was flying from Moscow to the Karelian republic's capital Petrozavodsk when it crash landed on a highway, one kilometre from the airport, emergencies situation ministry spokesperson Irina Andrianaova said.
“There were 52 people on board including nine crew. Forty four people were killed and eight survived, including an air-hostess,” Andrianova told Rossiya 24 TV. Sergei Ryzhov, Chief Designer of the light water VVER nuclear reactors, built by Russia in foreign countries including at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu has been killed in the crash along with the top leadership of the Russian nuclear industry.
“In Petrozavodsk crash practically whole leadership of OKB Gidropress (Hydropress) united designing bureau was killed including its director and general designer Sergei Ryzhov, deputy director and chief designer Gennady Banyuk, and head designer and chief of branch Nikolai Trunov,” Gidropress spokesman Sergei Sorokin said saying this was a great blow and loss for the Russian nuclear industry.
Eight foreigners were among the 44 people killed in the plane crash in Petrozavodsk. Eight people, including a nine-year-old boy and his teenage sister were among the eight people who survived the crash.
The Emergency Situations Ministry statement said the dead foreigners were a Swedish and a Dutch citizen and two Ukrainians, as well as the Russian-American family of four. According to eyewitness accounts carried by the TV channels, the plane was landing in bad weather with fog and rain and its landing path was perpendicular to the location of runway of the nearby airport.
The ill-fated Tupolev Tu-134 jet of a little-known RusAir airlines, specialising on VIP charters took off from Moscow's Domodedovo airport at 22:30 hrs. TV channels reported that the high-intensity landing lights on the runway were switched off despite the poor visibility and there was a five second power outage. “This power outage could have proved lethal as the pilot of any landing aircraft feverishly looks for light on the ground, the pilot of the ill-fated airliner mistook the nearby highway for the runway,” a former pilot was quoted as saying by Vesti FM radio.
At the time of crash despite fog and rain high intensity lights used in the poor visibility conditions were out of operation at the runway of the Petrozavodsk airport. “The ground systems ensuring the safe landing of jets had not been functioning properly for one or another reason. The high intensity lights that should have been switched on in the conditions of poor visibility were out of operation. The causes of this will be cleared out by a special commission,” Alexei Morozov, deputy chairman of the CIS Interstate Aviation Committee was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS.
According to Vesti FM radio the authorities have closed Petrozavodsk airport for the passenger traffic due to numerous shortcomings in its functioning. “It was a former military airfield without proper infrastructure for receiving in adverse weather,” an official of the Karelia administration was quoted as saying by the radio.
Slightly less than an hour and a half later it crashed on the Petrozavodsk-Suojarvi highway breaking into parts and bursting into flames.
According to an eyewitness a car was squeezed under the belly of the crash landing airliner and many motorists rushed to help the passengers of the jet. “We had rescued some. I was going towards a stocky man with stretched hands calling for help, but then it burst into flames, it was hell and I had to retreat. I cannot forget that man's eyes praying for help,” a weeping motorist told Rossiya 24 TV before completely breaking down. Six of the eight survivors will be flown to Moscow for further hospital treatment.
An Emergencies Ministry Ilyushin Il-76 transport jet landed arrived in Petrozavodsk with a group of doctors and psychologists.
The plane has three mobile units for transporting seriously ill patients, RIA Novosti reported.
Meanwhile, Transport Minister Igor Levitin has reached Petrozavodsk on the orders of President Dmitry Medvedev to personally supervise the probe. PTI