UTair passenger plane crashes in Siberia, killing 31

April 2nd, 2012 - 8:24 pm ICT by BNO News  

TYUMEN, RUSSIA (BNO NEWS) — A passenger plane operated by UTair Aviation crashed shortly after takeoff from an airport in Siberia on early Monday morning, killing at least 31 of the people on board, emergency officials said. Twelve people survived the accident.

The accident happened at around 7:33 a.m. local time when the ATR-72 twin-engine turboprop aircraft crashed in a snowy field about 3 kilometers (1.8 mile) from Roschino International Airport in Tyumen, the capital of the federal subject which carries the same name. The plane had taken off from the airport several minutes earlier.

UTair Aviation flight 120 was on a scheduled flight from Tyumen to Surgut International Airport in Surgut, a city about 640 kilometers (397 miles) northeast of Tyumen in the federal subject of Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug. The aircraft was carrying a total of 39 passengers, all of them adults, and four crew members.

Officials at the Ministry of Health and Social Development said 31 people were killed and 12 others were rescued and flown to two nearby hospitals, where five of them are in a critical condition and seven in a grave condition. The Ministry of Emergency Situations (EMERCOM) said the injured are between the ages of 24 and 51, although the ages of two people were not immediately known.

Deputy Minister of Healthcare and Social Development Maxim Topilin said the various injuries include brain contusions, fractures and burns. At least nine of the survivors were successfully operated on Monday afternoon, doctors said, and two other survivors were still being operated on.

“The airline UTair expresses its condolences to the relatives of those killed and injured passengers and crew members,” the airline said in a brief statement. It said it would provide compensation of 2 million Russian rubles ($68,000) to the relatives of those killed and the injured passengers, in accordance with insurance contracts. It said it would also cover the costs of funerals.

In the hours after the crash, UTair Aviation transported friends and relatives of the victims on a charter flight from Surgut to Tyumen. “Arriving family members have been met in a hotel in Tyumen, and have been provided all amenities courtesy of the airline,” the airline said in a statement. “UTair emergency medical personnel, psychologists, Federal Ministry Emergency Situations staff and urgent medical equipment and materials, including blood provided by Surgut blood transfusion station, were transported on the same flight.”

The cause of the accident was not immediately known, but a preliminary investigation by Russia’s Investigative Committee ruled out the possibility of a terrorist attack. Officials said investigators were focusing on the possibility of a technical malfunction as an eyewitness reported seeing smoke coming from the engines as the aircraft came down.

“This version is confirmed by the crew of the aircraft, which actually turned around immediately after take-off,” said a spokesperson for Russia’s Investigative Committee. The spokesperson said the agency has launched a criminal investigation, which is routine for passenger plane crashes in Russia. The aircraft’s flight data recorders were also recovered and are believed to be in a good condition.

According to government records, the ATR-72 aircraft was built in 1991 and made its first flight in 1992. The aircraft had flown 35,000 hours prior to Monday’s crash and underwent its last major maintenance in Germany in 2010. A routine maintenance was carried out in Tyumen in February.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said UTair had actually sold 40 tickets for Monday’s flight, but one of the passengers failed to arrive on time. “His name is known, he is a resident from the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug,” the agency’s spokesperson said, without giving other details about the 40th would-be passenger.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev changed his work schedule on Monday to receive updates about the accident, which he called a tragedy, from Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, Tyumen Governor Vladimir Yakushev and Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova.

Russia has seen a number of major aviation accidents over the last few years, in part because of its use of old aircraft, although industry experts also point to other problems such as poor crew training, out-of-date airports, lax government controls, and neglect of safety to maximize profits.

In September 2011, a Yak-Service Airlines plane carrying 37 passengers and 8 crew members crashed as it was attempting to take off from Tunoshna Airport in Yaroslavl Oblast, which is about 250 kilometers (160 miles) northeast of Moscow. All but one person died in the crash, including players and coaching staff of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl professional ice hockey team.

Most notably, Polish President Lech Kaczynski was among 96 people killed on April 10, 2010, when his Tupolev Tu-154M aircraft crashed near the city of Smolensk in Russia. He was visiting Smolensk for the 70th anniversary of the massacre of Polish prisoners of war in the village of Katyn.

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