MOSCOW – A passenger plane crashed in Siberia early Monday morning, killing dozens of people and severely injuring the few who survived.
UTair flight 120 went down just minutes after taking off from Tyumen en route to the town of Surgut. The pilots tried to steer the twin-turboprop ATR-72 to an emergency landing but were unable to do so. The plane split in half upon impact and burst into flames.
The plane was carrying 39 passengers and four crewmembers. The initial crash killed 31 people and authorities say at least one survivor has since died from injuries. The Russian news agency Interfax reports that the survivors suffered severe burns and injuries and have been transported by helicopter to the hospital.
In a statement on its website UTair expressed its condolences to the families of the victims and listed the names of those who survived. The airline vowed to pay survivors and the victims’ families each 2 million rubles (nearly $69,000), as well as cover any funeral expenses, in accordance with insurance contracts.
The flight disappeared from the radar shortly after 5:30am Moscow time just a few miles away from the airport. Investigators are looking into whether technical problems and pilot error contributed to the crash.
The newspaper Izvestia reports that the pilots were young and inexperienced. The paper reported that the pilot was 28 years old and had graduated from aviation school in 2008. His co-pilot was just 23 years old. Authorities have already recovered the plane’s black box flight recorders, which are said to be in good condition and will be analyzed.
Last year Russia was rated as one of the world’s most dangerous places to fly after a string of high profile plane crashes that some blamed on a combination of poor airplane maintenance, drunken or inexperienced pilots, and violations like forged documents.
Last September a plane crash killed an entire Russian hockey team. At the time Russian President Dmitri Medvedev charged the Transportation Ministry with improving training for Russian pilots and said Russian airline fleets needed to be upgraded.
The ATR-72 is a medium-haul plane made by a French-Italian manufacturer ATR. It made its debut in 1989 and is capable of holding up 74 people. This particular plane had been purchased by UTair from the Estonian airline Aero Airlines in 2008. It was previously owned by the Finnish airline Finnair which bought it in 1998 from the Taiwanese TransAsia Airways. Its maiden flight was on August 20, 1992.