Updated 5:51 P.M.
A Russian passenger aircraft carrying seventy-one crashed shortly after taking off from Moscow Sunday. The plane was heading to Orsk which is about 1,000 miles southeast of Moscow. According to authorities, no one is believed to have survived.
“The plane was carrying sixty-five passengers and six crewmembers. All of them died,” Moscow Inter-Regional Transport Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement to Interfax. “Judging by everything, no one has survived this crash,” Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said.
The flight took off from Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow and was in the air for about 5 minutes before disappearing from radar. It had traveled about twelve miles to the southeast of the airport, and had a reached an altitude of only 6,000 feet, well below the flight’s scheduled cruising altitude. Witnesses in a nearby village said they saw a burning plane falling from the sky.
Fragments of the craft, belonging to Saratov Airlines, a regional carrier in Russia, have been found spread over a wide area, indicating a mid-air structural failure. “When you have a widespread crash, even considering the aircraft was only at about 6,000 feet altitude, that tells you that there is possibly an in-flight breakup for some reason,” said Captain Ross Aimer, 40-year United Airlines veteran (Ret.) and CEO of Aero Consulting Experts, an aviation consulting & strategy firm.
Authorities have confirmed that the flight’s data recorder or “black box” had been found, and that no malfunctions were reported by the crew in the brief time the plane was in the air. “At the moment, it has been established that there have been no reports of aircraft failure from the crew,” Svetlana Petrenko of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a statement, expressed condolences to family members of those lost. “The president instructed the government to set up a special commission in connection with the plane crash in the Moscow region and instructed the relevant agencies to conduct the necessary search operations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Investigators have not ruled out any reason for the crash, and all possible causes were being looked into according to Russia’s Investigative Committee. Pilot error and a possible collision with another aircraft are among the possible causes.
The weather has also been severe all weekend in Moscow, with some of the heaviest snowfalls in decades being reported, a factor that may have contributed to the crash – something Aimer reiterated. “Weather could be a major factor, because there was icing conditions. Snow and ice – that usually would get everybody’s attention. Aircraft don’t do very well in heavy icing conditions,” Aimer said.