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Engine fire preceded plane crash in Russia, investigative team says

The subsidiary carrier for Aeroflot was preparing to land when it went down, authorities report.

September 15, 2008|From the Associated Press

PERM, RUSSIA — A Russian passenger jet's right engine caught fire before the plane crashed here Sunday, killing all 88 people on board, investigators said.

The Boeing 737-500, which was preparing to land, came down on the outskirts of the western city, just a few hundred yards from small wooden houses and apartment buildings. Officials said no one on the ground was killed.

Flight 821, operated by an Aeroflot subsidiary, carried 82 passengers and six crew members, Aeroflot said.

Aeroflot executives said the plane was circling at about 3,600 feet in "difficult weather conditions," including low cloud cover and rain, when it lost contact with ground controllers.

Witnesses said the plane was on fire as it fell.

"I felt an explosion. It threw me off the bed," a woman in Perm who was not identified told Vesti-24 television. "My neighbors, other witnesses told me that it was burning in the air, it looked like a comet."

The most likely cause was engine failure, Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the federal prosecutors' Investigative Committee, said in televised comments.

The plane's flight recorders have been found, and officials said it would take three to four weeks to analyze them.

The jet fell on a railroad embankment, temporarily halting traffic on a section of the track. Parts of the plane's fuselage reading "Aeroflot" and "Boeing" lay askew on the rails, along with clothing, life preservers and engine parts.

Emergency workers in camouflage uniforms picked up human remains and placed them in blue bags. Relatives of passengers said they were asked to provide DNA samples to help in the identification.

Among those killed was Gennady Troshev, 61, an army general who commanded troops in Chechnya. Human rights activists had accused him of tolerating rampant abuses in the war-ravaged republic.

Citizens of Azerbaijan, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the U.S. were on the plane, the airline said. But the U.S. Embassy said that the man listed as an American was not a U.S. citizen and that no Americans appeared to have been on the flight.

Russia and the other former Soviet republics have some of the world's worst air traffic safety records, according to the International Air Transport Assn. Experts blame weak government regulation, poor pilot training and a cost-cutting mentality among carriers.

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