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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.


3 comments »

  1. Do you think the bus bombing on Tuesday was somehow related? That was on Kashirskoye Shosse which leads to Domodedovo where both planes took off from.

  2. tomjkiehn says:

    The first thing that came to my mind when I heard this horrible news was that elections are supposed to take place in Chechnya in less than a week.

    Add to that the odds of two planes crashing on the same evening, the ‘aircraft seized’ signal, the reports of an explosion, and the statistics you’ve mentioned above and it sure sounds like a terror act to me.

  3. Alex(ei) says:

    Yes, they might have blown up the bus stop to divert attention away from the airport.

    The Chechen presidential election due Sunday: yes, Putin invested much effort into “Chechenizing” the war–installing an effective pro-Moscow native administration. Last Sunday he appeared on national TV (in a black shirt–black is his favorite) to support his Chechen candidate and eulogize the assassinated Akhmad-Hajji (Kadyrov). To some degree, Putin is putting his reputation at stake when the throws his weight behind the Chechen leaders loyal to Moscow, such as Kadyrov’s sun (who doesn’t run for President only because he is younger than the local Constitution allows). Some Russians believe Chechens respect nothing but force and will betray Putin when expedient.

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