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Magomed Tolboyev, a highly decorated Russian test pilot, said the Tu-134, while outdated, has a good reputation for reliability and agreed that human error was the most likely cause.

“The human factor is always key, especially now, when the level of crew training is very low and not controlled by the government,” Mr. Tolboyev told the Interfax news agency.

Video footage showed charred plane fragments, including engines and landing gear, strewn around the highway less than a half-mile short of the runway. Amateur video showed the plane consumed by fierce flames overnight.

The plane was carrying 52 people, including crew members, according to the Emergencies Ministry. Four of the dead — Lyudmila Simanova, Alexander Simanov, Yelizaveta Simanova and Yekaterina Simanova — had dual U.S. and Russian citizenship, but the U.S. Embassy had no immediate information on them.

Other victims include a Swede, a Dutchman, two Ukrainians, Russian Premier League soccer referee Vladimir Pettay and one man with dual Russian-German citizenship.

The local Emergencies Ministry branch said radio contact with the pilot was lost at 11:40 p.m. local time (3:40 p.m. EDT). The plane’s flight data recorders have been recovered.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered condolences to the victims’ families, and the transport minister flew to the crash site to oversee the investigation. Mr. Putin was attending the Paris Air Show on Tuesday to support dozens of Russian firms seeking sales contracts.

In recent years, Russia and the other former Soviet republics have had some of the world’s worst air traffic safety records, according to official statistics. Experts blame the poor safety record on the age of the aircraft being used, weak government controls, poor pilot training and a cost-cutting mentality.

In 2006, three crashes — two in Russia and one in Ukraine — killed more than 400 people.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski was among 96 people killed when his Tu-154 crashed in heavy fog while trying to land near the western Russian city of Smolensk in April 2010.

Mr. Ivanov, who accompanied Mr. Putin to Paris, said that Tuesday’s crash closely resembled that of the Polish plane, which also was apparently caused by pilot error. He said many Russian airlines lack the funds needed to replace their aging Tupolev planes, Interfax reported.

The Russian flag carrier Aeroflot has withdrawn all its Tupolevs from service and almost exclusively relies on Boeing and Airbus aircract. On Tuesday, it announced orders for eight more Boeing 777 airliners at the Paris Air Show.

A day before the crash, the International Air Transport Association noted that Russia recently has made progress on air safety, with none of Russia‘s 13 largest air carriers suffering a deadly accident in the past three years.

David Nowak, Vladimir Isachenkov and Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.