MOSCOW – A 1970s-era Russian turboprop airliner carrying oil workers slammed into the ground and caught fire Wednesday while trying to land near an oil port along the Arctic coast. At least 29 people were killed in the crash, which officials said came after the plane’s tail began to fall apart.
Some of the 24 survivors, shivering in temperatures of minus-11 Fahrenheit, used a satellite phone to call authorities from the wreckage near Varandei in the Nenets autonomous region, about 1,110 miles northeast of Moscow. Rescuers quickly reached the site, authorities said.
Emergency workers bundled in heavy coats loaded stretchers with the injured into ambulances, as clouds of exhaust from the vehicles billowed into the frigid air, according to footage shown on state-run Rossiya television.
The passengers were employees and contract workers for affiliates of Russia’s largest oil company, Lukoil, who were on their way to begin work stints, company spokesman Mikhail Mikhailov told the Associated Press. He had no immediate information about their nationalities.
There were 46 passengers and seven crew members aboard the Regional Airlines An-24 plane. Regional is a small private carrier.
Twenty-nine people were killed in the afternoon crash, the Emergency Situations Ministry said. Of the 24 survivors, 10 were in grave condition. The 19 most seriously hurt were evacuated by helicopter to the regional capital, Naryan-Mar, while the five others were taken to Varandei.
Emergency and transport officials would not discuss what might have caused the crash. The Interfax news agency reported that authorities were considering three possible causes: a technical problem, wind, and what the report said may have been the crew’s lack of familiarity with the location.
The plane was approaching the airport when it suddenly banked and slammed into the ground near Varandei.
The pilot “reported that he saw the runway” shortly before the crash, Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Gennady Korotkin said on Rossiya. Citing eyewitnesses, he said the plane was heading for a forced landing after the tail section began to fall apart.
The plane had departed from the city of Ufa in the southern Ural Mountains region and made stopovers in the cities of Perm and Usinsk before continuing on to Varandei.
The An-24 is a Soviet-designed turboprop airliner built in the 1960s for short and medium-length trips. Hundreds are still in service with airlines in Russia and other former Soviet republics, and analysts have warned that small airlines have had trouble properly maintaining the aging aircraft.