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Russia: Mechanical Failure Suspected In Air Crash

Cherkessk, Russia; 18 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Russian news agency Itar-Tass says mechanical failure is being considered as a cause of today's crash of a Russian passenger plane in the northern Caucusus. But the report said that a terrorist act has not been ruled out.

Latest reports indicate the two-engine turboprop plane of Stavropol Airlines was carrying about 50 people, including 41 passengers, as well as crew members and airline employees.

Interfax quotes Karachaevo-Cherkesiya regional deputy interior minister, Boris Erkenov, as saying pieces of the plane and human remains are scattered over a six-kilometer wide area, suggesting a mid-air explosion.

The Antonov-24 had reached 6,000 meters altitude 36 minutes into its charter flight from Stavropol to the Turkish Black Sea port of Trabzon when it disappeared from radar screens.

Itar-Tass quotes eyewitnesses as saying there was a loud blast as the plane plummeted from a high altitude, crashing with an even stronger explosion in Kuban district of Karachaevo-Cherkesiya region.

But Reuter quotes a duty officer of the local emergency committee, Vladimir Konnonov, as saying "we believe the plane burned in mid-air and fell into a forest." He says the plane crashed during a snowstorm without issuing a distress call, adding that nobody heard the explosion. Konnonov says rescue teams say nobody survived the crash.

Itar-Tass says most of the passengers were going to Turkey to purchase goods for the Russian firm Chelnoki. Turkish TV quotes a Stavropol Airline official as saying no Turkish citizens were aboard the airplane.