Investigators wade through snow in hunt for clues to cause of Russian plane crash

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 February, 2018, 8:22pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 February, 2018, 9:37pm

Investigators scoured the scene on Monday after a passenger plane crashed near Moscow minutes after take-off, killing all 71 people on board, in one of Russia’s worst-ever plane crashes.

The site of the crash was enveloped in heavy snow that was waist-high in places, making it difficult to access, with emergency workers forced to reach the wreckage by foot and use snowmobiles.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said it would consider explanations for the crash including human error, technical failure and the weather, as the country has experienced record snowfall in recent weeks. It did not mention the possibility of terrorism.

The Antonov An-148 plane went down in the Ramensky district around 70km (44 miles) southeast of Moscow after taking off from Domodedovo airport in the Russian capital and disappearing off the radar at 2:28pm on Sunday.

The flight was operated by the domestic Saratov Airlines and was heading for Orsk, a city in the Ural Mountains.

Around 100 investigators and criminologists were working at the scene, the Investigative Committee, which handles major incidents, said on Monday.

The emergency services ministry said at least one black box had been found.

With wreckage of the plane spread over more than 30 hectares around the crash site, it will take a week to inspect the whole area, the ministry said.

More than 900 people using equipment including drones were involved in the search operation, which has been reclassified as looking for bodies rather than survivors, the ministry said.

“We plan to carry out the main stage of the search operation in seven days because the plane debris is scattered over a very large area,” emergency services minister Vladimir Puchkov said at the scene, quoted by Interfax news agency, adding that “heavy snow” hampered searchers.

“We walked about 600 to 700 metres across a field, with snow in places waist-deep,” said Alexei Besedin, one of the first rescuers to reach the scene, quoted by the emergency services ministry.

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered “his profound condolences to those who lost their relatives in the crash”, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Putin – who is running for re-election in a March 18 poll – cancelled plans to travel to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Instead, the meeting was to take place in Moscow.