MOSCOW – A passenger jet carrying 88 people crashed as it was preparing to land in central Russia early today, killing everyone on board, officials said.
The Boeing 737-500 was traveling from Moscow when it went down on the outskirts of the city of Perm around 3:15 a.m. local time, said Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova. She said there was no indication terrorism was involved.
Eighty-two passengers and six crew were on board, Andrianova said. Officials said there were no deaths on the ground, and investigators were working to determine the cause of the crash.
Investigators found the planes’ “black box” flight recorders and were working to analyze them.
The crash destroyed a section of railway and shut down part of the Trans-Siberian railway, a spokesman for the national railroad company said.
The plane, operated by a division of Aeroflot, was on its approach to land when it crashed into an unpopulated area of the city, just a few hundred yards from residential buildings, Andrianova said.
Aeroflot spokeswoman Irina Danenberg said the plane was at about 3,600 feet when it lost contact with ground dispatchers.
“I felt the explosion and I ran out there. … I thought a war had begun,” a woman in Perm who was not identified told Vesti-24 TV. “The blast, it was like fireworks in the sky.”
Pavel Shevchenko, a 36-year-old Perm resident who lives just 300 yards from the site of the crash, said he awoke to an explosion and ran outside. He said debris was scattered around the area but heat from the flames kept him from getting closer.
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 his 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,” Shevchenko said. 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 blame weak government controls, poor pilot training and a cost-cutting mentality among many carriers that affects safety.
Today’s crash was the second involving a Boeing 737 in the former Soviet Union in the past month. A Boeing flying from Kyrgystan to Iran crashed shortly after takeoff on Aug. 24, killing 56 people.