Rostov-on-Don / AFP
A flydubai passenger jet crashed in southern Russia early Saturday, killing all 62 people on board as it tried to land in bad weather in the city of Rostov-on-Don, officials said.
The plane, which came from Dubai, was making its second attempt to land when it missed the runway, erupting in a huge fireball as it crashed, leaving debris scattered across a wide area.
The airline issued a statement saying “flydubai regrets to confirm that flight FZ981 crashed on landing and that fatalities have been confirmed as a result of this tragic accident.”
Russia’s Investigative Committee confirmed that all on board were killed. “There were 55 passengers and seven crew members on board. They are all dead,” investigators said.
A no-frills budget carrier which is a sister firm to Emirates Airlines, flydubai is government-owned and was set up in March 2008.
The passenger jet took off from Dubai at 1820 GMT and crashed at 0050 GMT with 44 Russian nationals, eight Ukrainians, two Indians and one Uzbek as passengers, the airline said. They comprised 33 women, 18 men and four children.
A foreign ministry source in Madrid said that two crew members were Spanish and one Colombian, while Cypriot diplomats in Russia told news agencies that the pilot was from Cyprus. Authorities in Kyrgyzstan confirmed one of the flight attendants was from the Central Asian country, while reoprts said the other two crew members were from the Seychelles and Russia.
“We are currently contacting relatives of the passengers and crew who were on board and we are offering any help we can to those affected,” it said. Footage aired on local media showed a huge fireball engulfing a wide area after the plane went down. The authorities took more than an hour to get the blaze under control, the emergencies ministry said.
Russian state media later showed pictures of rescue workers combing through scattered debris in the driving snow, with the emergencies ministry saying over 700 rescuers and 100 vehicles had been deployed.
Investigators confirmed that the plane’s two black boxes had been recovered. An AFP journalist at the scene said local residents had started laying flowers in front of a list of victims that had been posted at the airport terminal.
‘Broke into several pieces
Investigators said the plane had “skimmed the ground and broke into several pieces”, with fragments of the Boeing 737 reportedly scattered up to 1.5 kilometres (one mile) from the crash site.
A strong wind warning was in place and it was raining hard at the time of the crash. Russian outlet LifeNews said the plane had been circling the area trying to land for two hours because of the poor weather.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to the families of the victims after being briefed on the crash by his transport and emergency situations ministers, the Kremlin said.
Other flights were diverted to Krasnodar airport, 300 kilometres (180 miles) south of Rostov-on-Don.
Following the crash, a criminal investigation was opened to determine whether any safety regulations were violated and if negligence played any part in the disaster.
“Different versions for what happened are being worked through, among them a mistake made by the crew of the plane, a technical problem onboard, difficult weather conditions and other factors,” Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told Russian news agencies.
Strong airline record
The airline, which is based in the United Arab Emirates, said it had put its “emergency response” procedures into action and that it would be “working closely with all the authorities involved” in a statement posted on its website, which had been changed to a sombre black-and-grey colour scheme.
Boeing said it was aware of the incident. “We’re aware of reports coming out of Russia and our team is currently gathering more details,” the plane manufacturer said on Twitter.
Based at Dubai airport, the airline has a strong safety record, but one of its planes was hit by a bullet as it landed in Baghdad airport in January 2015, prompting multiple companies to suspend flights to the Iraqi capital. No one was hurt.
Russian airports have a patchy safety history with the fatal private jet crash in 2014 that killed Total oil giant’s boss Christophe de Margerie on take-off in Moscow one of a string of incidents.
The last major aviation tragedy involving Russia was in October last year, when a passenger jet on its way from Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh resort to Saint Petersburg was brought down by a bomb in the Sinai