Russia says plane crash kills 44, eight injured

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A passenger plane slammed into the ground and caught fire while trying to land on a foggy night in northwestern Russia, killing at least 44 people on board, authorities said on Tuesday.

The Tupolev-134, with 43 passengers and nine crew, crashed on a road 700 meters (2,300 feet) short of the runway at the Besovets airport outside the northern city of Petrozavodsk at 11.40 p.m. local time (3:40 p.m. ET) on Monday.

"The preliminary information is that 44 people were killed," Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andriyanova said. "Eight people were injured and seven of them are in a very grave condition."

The plane veered off course while coming in to land and controllers ordered the pilot to circle again, but it hit a power line, briefly blacking out the runway lights, Itar-Tass news agency cited a local emergency official as saying.

The plane scraped the treetops and hit a motorway near the airport, breaking into pieces. Photos and video footage showed flames shooting from the wreckage, body parts lying on the road and the plane's wheels lying upside down by the roadside.

"I managed to take a woman or a girl out of there, she was light," news website www.lifenews.ru quoted a witness as saying. He said he and his father had removed several more people before the plane blew up.

"I didn't have time to do anything else, it all started to explode," he said. "Everything caught fire, there was no way to get close."

The plane hit a car on the road, dragging it under the fuselage, Itar-Tass reported. It was unclear how many people were in the car.

Federal Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said technical failure, pilot or ground crew error and bad weather were among the most likely causes of the crash.

10-year-old boy survived

Www.lifenews.ru, which posted a full list of passengers, said a 10-year-old boy named Anton had survived the crash but had an open hip wound and had lost a lot of blood.

His 14-year-old sister was hospitalized with injuries.

"We took a child to the local hospital. The child was in a very grave condition," a medical worker told a local television crew at the scene.

The passengers included two Ukrainians, a Swede, a Dutch citizen and four people with both Russian and US citizenship, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

President Dmitry Medvedev offered condolences to victims' relatives and ordered authorities to aid survivors, the Kremlin said.

A video made by a witness on her mobile phone, and filmed by the television crew, showed flames soaring from the wreckage into the night sky near where the plane crashed, in the region of Kareliya 700 km (430 miles) northwest of Moscow.

"Everything was on fire," a witness who declined to give his name told the television crew. A photographer saw charred wreckage and dozens of emergency workers and firemen.

The crash came during the Paris Air Show, which Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was due to attend on Tuesday.

Medvedev, who has swapped his Tupolev for a French-made executive jet, in April criticized flaws in domestically-built planes and the nation's poor safety record.

One of the most high-profile Tupolev air disasters in recent times occurred in April 2010 when Polish President Lech Kaczynski's official Tupolev Tu-154 plane crashed near Smolensk airport in western Russia, killing 96 people including Kaczynski, his wife and a large number of senior officials.

The Tu-134 plane that crashed on Monday was operated by the private company RusAir and was traveling from Moscow's Domodedovo airport. RusAir, which specializes in charter flights, declined immediate comment.

The Tuploev-134 is a Soviet aircraft whose maiden flight was in 1967. It was unclear when the plane which crashed was made.

The aircraft's black boxes have been recovered.

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