July 9, 2006

Russia opens probe into plane crash

By Ivan Stoyanov

IRKUTSK, Russia (Reuters) - Russian investigators begin
piecing together the last moments of Sibir airlines flight 778
on Monday and passengers' relatives will learn if their loved
ones were among at least 122 people who died.

The Russian Airbus A-310, on a domestic flight from Moscow,
failed to stop when it touched down in the Siberian city of
Irkutsk on Sunday and veered off the runway, crashing into a
building and bursting into flames.

Investigators hope the plane's "black box" flight
recorders, which were flown to Moscow late on Sunday, will
yield vital information about what caused the crash that killed
more than half of the 204 people on board.

At least 55 people remained in hospital late on Sunday,
being treated for burns, trauma and the effects of smoke
inhalation. The fate of 12 passengers was unknown.

Many of those on board were children, including 14 pre-teen
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,"
Margarita Svetlova, who survived the crash, told Russia's First
Channel television.

"I probably lost consciousness for a minute ... I
unfastened my seat belt. I ran and started shouting and
swearing, looking for an exit ... The inflatable escape chute
wouldn't inflate, but I jumped all the same. I was lucky, I
just hurt my leg a bit."

Sibir airlines published a list of 193 passengers at an
emergency Web site, www.bort778.info, but a spokeswoman for
Russia's Emergencies Ministry said there were three more
passengers who were not on Sibir's official list.

The Ministry plans to reveal the names of the known victims
at 0400 Moscow time (midnight GMT), while the airline has
offered to fly grieving relatives to Irkutsk on Monday.

President Vladimir Putin declared Monday a day of mourning.