Boeing airliner crashes in Russian city of Kazan, 50 killed

Reuters

* Son of regional leader killed in crash

* Cause unknown, state aviation safety body says

* Crash highlights Russia's poor air-safety record (Adds Boeing comment)

By Douglas Busvine and Alissa de Carbonnel

MOSCOW, Nov 17 (Reuters) - A Boeing 737 airliner crashed onSunday in the Russian city of Kazan, killing all 50 people onboard and spotlighting the poor safety record of regionalairlines that ply internal routes across the world's largestnation.

The son of the president of the oil-rich province ofTatarstan and the regional head of the FSB intelligence servicewere named among those killed when the plane exploded in a ballof fire on hitting the runway.

Pictures showed charred wreckage scattered over a wide area,apparently taken after firefighters had extinguished the fire.Russian television broadcast a blurred video showing a brightflash of light. It also published a photo of the plane's gapingfuselage with firefighters in the foreground.

The Tatarstan airlines flight from Moscow had been trying toabort its landing in order to make a second approach when itcrashed, killing all 44 passengers and six crew on board,emergency officials said.

Flight U363 took off from Moscow's Domodedovo airport at6:25 pm (1425 GMT) and crashed just over an hour later,emergency officials said. The leased plane was 23 years old.

According to local reports, the Boeing lost altitude quicklyand its fuel tank exploded on impact.

There were high winds and above-zero temperatures over theairport in central Russia. Flights to and from the airport werehalted until midday on Monday.

Kazan, which is 800 km (500 miles) east of Moscow, is thecapital of the largely-Muslim, oil-rich region of Tatarstan. Anew runway was built at the airport ahead of the World StudentGames, held in the city earlier this year.

Russia will host the Winter Olympics in the southern city ofSochi early next year.

The son of Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov, Irek, wasamong those killed in the crash, as was the head of the regionalFederal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Antonov, according to apassenger list whose authenticity was confirmed by the regionalgovernment.

Russia and the former Soviet republics combined have one ofthe world's worst air-traffic safety records, with a totalaccident rate almost three times the world average in 2011,according to the International Air Transport Association.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the disaster "afrightening tragedy", offering his condolences to the relativesof the victims in a Tweet on Sunday.

State television showed images of a woman scanning a list ofpassenger names posted outside the airport and crumbling intotears as she apparently recognised one.

Boeing officials had no immediate comment on thecircumstances of the crash, but issued a statement.

"Boeing's thoughts are with those affected by the crash ofthe Tartarstan aircompany flight. Boeing is prepared to providetechnical assistance to the investigating authority as itinvestigates the accident."

SPRAWLING COUNTRY

Russia spans nine time zones, from the Baltic Sea to thePacific across large areas of largely uninhabited land, makingefficient air and train links especially important to thecountry's economy.

In Soviet times, flag carrier Aeroflot had avirtual monopoly of the airline industry, but after the collapseof the Soviet Union, a multitude of small private companiesemerged.

A spokesman for state aviation oversight agency Rosaviatsiasaid authorities would search for the flight recorders.

"The plane touched the ground and burst into flame," SergeiIzvolsky said. "The cause of the crash as of now is unknown."

The plane had been forced to make an emergency landing ayear earlier on Nov. 26 due to problems with "cabindepressurisation" shortly after take off, a law enforcementsource told Interfax news agency. No one was hurt.

IATA said last year that global airline safety had improvedbut that accident rates had risen in Russia and the ex-SovietCommonwealth of Independent States.

In April 2012, at least 31 people were killed when a Russianpassenger plane crashed after take-off in Siberia.

In Sept. 2011, a Yak-42 passenger jet carrying members of amajor league ice hockey team came down shortly after takeoff andburst into flames near the Russian city of Yaroslavl, killing 44people.

The Boeing 737 is the world's most popular passenger jet incommercial use today. There have been 170 crashes involving thismodel of aircraft since it came into use.

In the Russian city of Perm in 2008, a Boeing 737 exploded a kilometre above the ground, killing 88 people. (Reporting by Douglas Busvine and Alissa de Carbonnel;Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Tim Hepher in Dubai;Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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