There appear to be "no survivors" among the 71 people aboard a Russian jet that crashed in a snow-covered field and broke into pieces four minutes after taking off from Moscow, the Russian transport minister said.
"Judging by everything, at the moment there are no survivors of this air disaster," Minister Maksim Sokolov said of the crash Sunday afternoon local time outside Moscow.
DNA analysis will likely be needed to identify the dead, Sokolov said.
"The quality of biomaterials [at the crash site] is such that genetic analysis will have to be done. We will have to collect biological material from relatives."
Two bodies had been recovered from the wreckage by Sunday evening local time, Russia's Emergencies Ministry reported. About 400 rescue workers were sent to the crash site, where the search is expected to continue throughout the night.
The Saratov Airlines jet, with 65 passengers and six crew members, disappeared from radar at 2:28 p.m. Moscow time, four minutes after taking off from Domodedovo Airport in Moscow, according to Russia's transport prosecutor's office. It was en route to Orsk in the Orenburg Region about 1,000 miles away when it crashed, Elena Voronova, a spokeswoman for the airlines, told ABC News.
Video showed the wreckage of Saratov Airlines Flight 703 strewn across a snow-covered field near the village of Stepanovskoye, about 50 miles southeast of Moscow. Orange twisted chunks of the airplane stood out against the snow-covered field.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his "deep condolences to all those who lost their relatives and friends" in the aviation tragedy. He also instructed the government to establish a special commission to investigate the cause of the plane crash.
The plane was a 7-year-old Antonov An-148 regional jet, a high-wing aircraft with twin turbo engines.
"The crew and passengers had no chance to survive," a government emergency services source said.
Russian police are looking at whether criminal negligence could have led to the crash, which suggests the cause is not assumed to be terror-related.
A spokeswoman for Russia’s Investigative Committee, which handles serious crimes, told Russian news agencies that it is opening a criminal case to look into possible violations of transport safety regulations or careless behavior resulting in deaths.
A cockpit voice recorder and parts of the plane's fuselage had been recovered by Sunday evening and were being examined, the ministry said. Rescue crews searched bodies as darkness fell across the widespread crash zone and heavy snow pounded the area, covering some of the wreckage.
No Americans are believed to have been aboard the flight, according to the U.S. State Department.
The White House released a statement Sunday afternoon, saying, "The United States is deeply saddened by the tragic deaths of those on board Saratov Airlines Flight 703. We send our condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and to the people of Russia."
After takeoff, the plane made a slight left turn and reached an altitude of 6,400 feet and a speed of roughly 345 miles per hour before suddenly plunging to the ground in less than a minute, according to FlightTrader24, a Swedish internet-based flight tracking service.
There were no known complaints that the plane had technical problems, Voronova said.
“The crew was experienced, the plane was reliable,” she said.
Voronova identified the pilot as 51-year-old Valery I. Gubanov, who had 5,000 hours of flight experience, including 2,146 hours on the type of plane the crashed. She said the co-pilot, Sergey Gambarian, was also an experienced pilot.
The aircraft that crashed, according to TASS, had been put into storage between 2015 and 2017 due to a delay in getting parts for it. The plan resumed flying in February 2017, according to TASS.