Russia awaits death toll in remote plane crash | Aviation News
A decades-old passenger plane carrying 28 people crashed in the Russian Far East on Tuesday, leaving everyone on board, including at least one child, in fear of death.
The plane was en route from the regional capital Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to Palana, a town in northwest Kamchatka, when it lost contact with air traffic control shortly before 3:00 p.m. local time (03:00 GMT), said the Russian Emergency Ministry.
There were 22 passengers and six crew aboard the Antonov An-26 twin-engine turboprop, which had been in service since 1982 and was owned by a company called Kamchatka Aviation Enterprise.
Most were residents of Palana, a town that is home to around 2,900 people and near the Sea of Okhotsk.
The Russian Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed that the site of the plane crash was discovered after the Emergency Ministry dispatched a helicopter and deployed ground crews to search for the missing plane.
The operation located debris at sea and on land, local officials said, but the death toll is not expected to be confirmed until Wednesday due to nightfall affecting response efforts.
“The site is difficult to access… [and] it is already dark here, ”Kamchatka Governor Vladimir Solodov told NTV television. “Most likely, we won’t have official confirmation until tomorrow.”
Investigation in progress
The Kamchtka Transport Prosecutor’s Office told Al Jazeera that an investigation into the cause of the crash was underway.
Russian news agency Interfax reported that the plane struck a cliff as it was preparing to land in poor visibility conditions, citing local sources.
The plane was in fog and clouds on approach to Palana airport when it missed a scheduled call and disappeared from radar, the Associated Press reported, citing officials in the Kamchatka region.
Russian state aviation agency Rosaviatsiya said parts of the plane were found about five kilometers (three miles) from the airport runway.
Part of the fuselage – the main body of the plane – was found on the side of a mountain, the Russian Pacific Fleet told local news agencies. Another part was located floating in the Sea of Okhotsk.
Sergei Gorb, deputy director of Kamchatka Aviation Enterprise, said the plane had “practically crashed into a cliff”, which was not supposed to be in its landing path.
“Too early to tell what happened”
However, experts urged not to draw any conclusions until the debris has been fully examined.
“It is too early to tell what happened,” aviation safety analyst Vitali Shelkovnikov told Al Jazeera.
He added the An-26 model, which for decades was the most reliable mode of transportation in the remote and sparsely populated area, was generally a reliable aircraft.
Some 320,000 people live on the New Zealand-sized peninsula – where “bears outnumber people” as a local saying goes – and an adjacent archipelago.
“It’s a good machine. [The] Antonov [aircraft designer bureau] never made bad machines, ”said Shelkovnikov, who heads the Moscow-based consulting agency Flight Safety.
Kamchatka Aviation Enterprise director Alexei Khabarov told Interfax that the plane was technically in good condition before taking off.
Russian aviation safety standards have improved in recent years, but fatal crashes, particularly involving aging aircraft in remote areas, are not uncommon.
Russia also frequently experiences non-fatal aerial incidents that result in rerouted flights and emergency landings, usually due to technical issues.
The Soviet-era Antonov model, which is still used for military and civilian flights in some countries, has been involved in dozens of fatal accidents since it entered service around 50 years ago.
In 2012, an Antonov An-28 plane belonging to Kamchatka Aviation Enterprise crashed into a mountain on the same route as Tuesday’s flight, killing 10 people.
Investigators said both pilots were drunk at the time of the crash.
Flying in Russia can be especially dangerous in remote areas of the vast country, such as the Arctic and the Far East, where weather conditions are often extreme.
With additional reporting by Mansur Mirovalev.