August 25, 2004 by AK
Two Russian planes down
Two passenger planes crashed last night in Russia. One, a Tu-154 (ca. 150 seats, 44 passengers and a crew of 8 on board) crashed on the way from Moscow to Volgograd (the Stalingrad of WWII that is). The other, a Tu-134 (ca. 80 seats, 38 passengers and a crew of 8 on board), going from Moscow to the Black sea resort Sochi, went down in the Tula region. No one survived.
Contrary to popular belief, the number of passenger plane crashes in Russia is not at all extraordinary, so the fact that two aircraft perished on the same night is naturally suspicious. There have been reports that the Tu-154 sent an “aircraft seized” signal before disappearing from the radar screens, and that the Tu-134 exploded in flight. But these are early and unreliable.
Both planes were mercifully half-empty, yet a hundred people died. May they rest in peace.
[UPDATE] The FSB are saying they have detected no traces of an explosion (yet). According to the Aviation Safety Network database, the latest major plane accident on a regular passenger flight within Russia (before these two) happened in 2001: a Tu-154M went out of control on approach to Irkutsk. In 2002, an Il-86 (until then considered quite safe) crashed into a forest right after takeoff at Sheremetievo. It was a ferry flight; 14 members of the crew died, but two flight attendants survived. In 2003 and 2004 (until yesterday) there were no fatal accidents involving regular passenger flights in Russia. Then, suddenly, two planes are gone within minutes of each other; not even at takeoff or during ascent, descent or landing.
On a side note, Aeroflot has monopolized international flights but private carriers dominate domestic air transportation (although Aeroflot has bought into some of them). Sibir Air, which owned the Tu-154 flying to Sochi, was also the owner of the unfortunate plane that got hit by a Ukrainian missile over the Black Sea en route from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk in October 2001.
UPDATE 2. An FSB representative spoke very cautiously on Russian TV about the accidents last nights, ruling out no possible causes but giving preference to none. An eyewitness said he saw and heard an explosion in the sky; in 30 seconds, another, “long” blast (when the aircraft hit the ground?). Investigators said the bodies they found were not burned, which was against the explosion theory; on the other hand, plane parts were found within a very wide range, suggesting that the planes had disintegrated “up there.”
The NYT has more details.
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