Moscow: At least 41 people, including two children, on board a Russian Aeroflot plane were killed after it burst into flames while making an emergency landing at a Moscow airport.
Aeroflot flight SU 1492 skidded down the runway at the Sheremetyevo Airport on Sunday, with its rear section ablaze and spilling thick, black smoke. Dramatic videos on social media show passengers using emergency exit slides to escape the burning aircraft.
The jet had 73 passengers and five crew. Two children and a flight attendant were among the dead. One witness said it was a “miracle” anyone escaped, the BBC reported.
The Superjet 100 was flying from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport to Murmansk, a Russian city in the Arctic circle, when an emergency on board forced it to turn back to the airport.
Its crew sent a distress signal when “malfunctions” occurred in bad weather shortly after take-off at 6.02 p.m. (local time). After making an emergency landing at the airport, the plane’s engines caught fire on the runway, Aeroflot said, adding that the crew “did everything to save the passengers”.
The aircraft landed with full fuel tanks because the crew lost contact with air traffic controllers and decided it was too dangerous to dump fuel over Moscow, Russian news agency Interfax said.
Earlier reports said that the plane had landed on fire, but Interfax reported that the jet caught fire after a “very bumpy landing”.
“There were 78 people including crew members on board the plane. According to the updated info which the investigation has as of now, 37 people survived,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement.
Some passengers blamed bad weather and lightning for the incident.
One passenger who survived the crash, Petr Egorov, was quoted by the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily newspaper as saying that the flight “had just taken off and the aircraft was hit by lightning”, adding: “The landing was rough – I almost passed out from fear.”
State TV aired a mobile phone footage shot by another passenger in which people could be heard screaming.
Mikhail Savchenko claims he was on the plane when it exploded into a fireball on the tarmac but “managed to jump out”. He shared a video of passengers running away from the burning plane.
Kristian Kostov, a former Bulgarian Eurovision contestant, posted on social media about witnessing the incident. He said people at the airport were left “shaking” after seeing the aircraft engulfed by fire.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was briefed about the mishap and expressed condolences to the families of victims, while Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered a special committee to investigate the disaster.
Murmansk’s Acting Governor Andrey Chibis reportedly said that the families of those killed in the fire will each receive one million rubles ($15,300), while the victims being treated in hospital will be given 500,000 rubles ($7,650).
The region of Murmansk has announced a three-day mourning period.