July 9, 2006

Russian plane crash kills 120

By Ivan Stoyanov

IRKUTSK, Russia (Reuters) - A Russian airliner crashed on
landing and burst into flames in Siberia on Sunday, killing at
least 120 people and injuring more than 50, emergency officials

Many of the 200 people on board were children flying for
holidays on Lake Baikal, a popular Siberian spot in summer,
media reported.

"It was awful. I saw people burning, they were burning,"
one female survivor told Russia's First Channel television.

Sibir airlines flight 778 from Moscow to Irkutsk, an Airbus
A-310, overshot the runway at around 2:50 a.m. Moscow time
(2250 GMT on Saturday). It plowed through a wall into nearby
buildings and caught fire.

"I heard a bang and the earth shook," Mikhail Yegerev, a
witness in his fifties, told Reuters. "I went out and saw
plumes of smoke and the plane's tail."

Television pictures showed the smoking ruins of the plane
in between several lockup garages. Only its tail section,
bearing the white-on-blue logo of Sibir airlines, was still

"My garage is here. I ran there and saw people coming --
blackened with smoke, with injuries, burns and a woman with a
broken leg. I helped her and gave her a lift," Yegerev said.

Chief Emergencies Ministry spokesman Viktor Beltsov said
120 bodies had been recovered so far, 54 people survived and 53
were still in hospital. The fate of 26 passengers was unknown.

Of the survivors, who included a stewardess and a pilot, 11
escaped through an emergency exit, media reported. There were
eight crew on board.

Around 600 rescue workers, amid rain and poor visibility,
used cutting equipment to recover bodies from the wreckage.

At Moscow's Domodedovo airport, where flight 778 took off
on Saturday evening, friends and relatives sought news of their
loved ones at an improvised emergency information center.

One man, called Vyacheslav, lost his brother, wife and
4-year-old child in the crash, his friend Larisa Kolcheva said.

"We were sitting with them yesterday before they got on the
flight," she told Reuters. "I just can't believe this has


Prosecutors opened a criminal probe into the crash, with
human error and equipment failure considered among the possible
causes. There was no immediate suspicion of foul play.

Transport Minister Igor Levitin said the plane's pilots had
told air traffic controllers they had landed successfully but
then radio contact broke off suddenly, news agencies reported.

Levitin, speaking before flying from Moscow to Irkutsk, was
also quoted as saying the runway was wet after rain.

"I asked a person who was on board. (He said) it had landed
on the tarmac and was speeding along without braking," said
witness Yegerev. "Then, he said, flame had erupted in the cabin
and then there was an impact when it broke through the wall."

Airbus said the crashed plane, assembled in 1987, had made
more than 10,000 flights

The company said it was dispatching a team of specialists
to Russia and it would provide full assistance to the

"The concerns and sympathy of the Airbus employees go to
the families, friends and loved ones affected by the accident,"
a company statement said.

Media reports said the chief of the Irkutsk branch of
Russia's FSB security service died in the crash.

Last May an Airbus A-320 of the Armenian airline Armavia,
flying from Yerevan to the Russian resort of Sochi, crashed in
the Black Sea. All 113 people on board was killed.

Less than two years ago, a Sibir airlines Tupolev-154 was
one of two passenger planes downed almost simultaneously by
Chechen suicide bombers, killing 89 people. Russian forces have
been fighting a Chechen separatist insurgency for over a

(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Dmitry Solovyov
and Douglas Busvine)