- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2008

Updated:

MOSCOW (AP) — A passenger jet traveling from Moscow to the Ural Mountains city of Perm crashed as it was preparing to land early Sunday, killing all 88 people aboard, officials said, citing engine failure as a possible cause.

The crash on the outskirts of Perm scorched a section of railroad track and scattered paper, clothing, life preservers and engine parts for several hundred yards. Sections of the plane’s fuselage reading “Aeroflot” and “Boeing” lay askew on the rails.

The damage shut down part of the Trans-Siberian railway, said Alexander Burataeva, a spokesman for the national railroad company.

Among those killed was a popular general who commanded troops in Chechnya.

Investigators said engine failure may have caused the crash of the Boeing 737-500, which went down around 3:15 a.m. on the outskirts of Perm, about 750 miles east of Moscow.

Flight 821, operated by an Aeroflot subsidiary, carried 82 passengers and six crew members, Aeroflot said. It said among those killed were citizens of the United States, France, Turkey, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Latvia. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said it has not yet been able to verify that the person listed as an American is a citizen.

The plane was on its approach to land amid low cloud cover when it crashed into an unpopulated area of the city, just a few hundred yards from residential buildings. Aeroflot officials said the plane was circling at about 3,600 feet in “difficult weather conditions” when it lost contact with ground dispatchers.

Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova said there was no indication of terrorism.

The most likely cause of the crash was failure of one of the plane’s two engines, Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the federal prosecutors’ Investigative Committee, said in televised comments.

The head of the Investigative Committee said examination of the site showed the crash “apparently was connected to technical failure and a fire in the right engine,” the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

“There is much evidence for this,” Alexander Bastrykin was quoted as saying.

Investigators have found the plane’s “black box” flight recorders and were working to analyze them.

“I felt an explosion, it threw me off the bed… . My daughter ran in from the next room crying: ‘What happened? Has a war begun or what?’” a woman in Perm who was not identified told Vesti-24 TV. “My neighbors, other witnesses told me that it was burning in the air; it looked like a comet. It hit the ground opposite the next house, trailing like fireworks in the sky.”

Officials said there were no deaths on the ground.

Pavel Shevchenko, a 36-year-old Perm resident who lives just 300 yards from the site of the crash, said he was awakened by an explosion and ran outside. He said the heat from the flames kept him from approaching the crash site.

He said a neighbor who witnessed the crash told him the plane hit the ground sharply — at a 30 or 40 degree angle. He said he feared acquaintances or friends could be among the dead.

“It’s awful. There’s just no words to describe it. Perm is a small town, everybody knows everybody else here,” Mr. Shevchenko told the Associated Press.

Russia and the other former Soviet republics have some of the world’s worst air traffic safety records, according to the International Air Transport Association. Experts have blamed weak government controls, poor pilot training and a cost-cutting mentality among many carriers.

No problems were reported with the 15-year-old jet when it was last inspected at the beginning of 2008, Aeroflot deputy director Lev Koshlyakov said.

“Aeroflot has a good reputation in the field of safety,” Mr. Koshlyakov told reporters at Moscow’s Sheremyetevo Airport, from which the flight had departed. The crash is “a hard blow for our reputation.”

Aeroflot director Valery Okulov said the company was cutting ties with Aeroflot-Nord, the subsidiary that ran the flight.

Among those reported killed was Gennady Troshev, 61, an army general who commanded troops in Chechnya. Human rights activists had accused him of tolerating rampant abuses in the war-ravaged republic.

He was dismissed in 2002 by then-President Vladimir Putin after he publicly refused to accept a transfer during a power struggle within Russia’s armed forces.

Gen. Troshev was traveling to Perm to attend a wrestling competition, news agencies said.

Sunday’s crash was the second involving a Boeing 737 in the former Soviet Union in the past month. A Boeing flying from the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan to Iran crashed shortly after takeoff on Aug. 24, killing 64 of the 90 people on board.

Associated Press writer David Nowak contributed to this report.

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