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Siberia plane crash kills 31

Thirty-one people were killed today when a passenger plane crashed moments after takeoff in an oil-rich Siberian region in the latest accident to hit Russia's crisis-prone aviation industry.
By HT Correspondent | AFP, Moscow
UPDATED ON APR 02, 2012 01:59 PM IST

Thirty-one people were killed on Monday when a passenger plane crashed moments after takeoff in an oil-rich Siberian region in the latest accident to hit Russia's crisis-prone aviation industry.

The emergencies ministry said the French-Italian made ATR-72 liner was carrying 39 passengers and four crew when it crashed 45 kilometres (28 miles) from the western Siberian city of Tyumen on a flight to the oil town of Surgut.

"Twelve people are in critical condition... Thirty-one have been killed," the Tyumen emergencies ministry said in an updated statement after initially putting the death toll at 32.

The ATR-72 twin-engine plane was operated by UTair -- a private Russian airline that conducts most of its flights in the energy-rich regions of Western Siberia and the Ural Mountains.

The airline said in a statement that the plane came down shortly after takeoff "while conducting a forced landing 1.5 kilometres (about one mile)" outside Roshchino airport.

An airport security officer told Interfax the plane had only managed to climb to about 100 metres (yards) before it lost all communication with air traffic controllers.

"The liner's technical problems probably emerged during takeoff and the crew tried to perform an emergency landing," the news agency said, quoting the airport official.

UTair itself gave no immediate reason for the crash.

The Investigative Committee said its members had visited the airline's office to "obtain technical and pre-flight documentation."

Rescue teams found the plane's cabin ablaze and the jet itself broken up into multiple charred pieces.

The Lifenew.ru website published photographs showing the tailplane lying in a snow-covered field some distance from other debris, including tires and segments of the cabin.

The Russian emergencies ministry said rescuers had discovered the so-called "black box" flight recorders.

The city of Tyumen lies 1,700 kilometres (1,000 miles) east of Moscow and is the capital of one of Russia's biggest oil producing regions of the same name.

The plane was flying to Surgut -- the heart of the Surgutneftegaz energy company and one of Russia's largest oil and natural gas producers.

Russia's aviation industry remains blighted by repeated accidents involving its ageing fleet of planes, and president-elect Vladimir Putin has made industry reform one of the top priorities of his third term as Kremlin chief.

Putin has already ordered Russia's older planes to be taken out of service by the end of the year and for pilots and smaller air carriers to be subject to strict new tests and regulations.

The crash marks the first disaster that Putin will have to deal with following his March 4 re-election and underscores the difficulties Russia has faced in updating its Soviet-era infrastructure.

Officials have identified poor pilot training and lax safety rules as one of the most immediate problems affecting Russian aviation.

But plans to eliminate smaller carriers that employ just a handful of planes as a safety precaution have run up against the reality that Russia lacks the fleet needed to span the country's vast distances.

Russia announced plans to recall the licences of 30 smaller airlines in response to a September 2011 plane crash that claimed the lives of 44 people -- most of them members of the championship-winning ice hockey team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.

A plane carrying Polish president Lech Kaczynski and other top officials came down in fog near the Russian city of Smolensk in April 2010 in an accident that killed 96 people and damaged ties between Moscow and Warsaw.

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