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Russian Investigators Probe Crash Data As Operator Grounds Plane Model


Russian Crews Comb Through Snowy Crash Site
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WATCH: Emergency workers combed through the wreckage of a Russian airliner on February 12, a day after the plane crashed into a snowy field following take off from Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, killing all 71 people aboard. (Russian Emergency Situations Ministry video via Reuters)

Russian authorities began examining two flight recorders from a plane that crashed outside Moscow while the airline operator grounded similar plane models in its fleet.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told a cabinet meeting late on February 12 that emergency teams found both the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, which he said wil help determine the cause of the crash that killed all 71 people on board. Investigators said they had started analyzing them.

Meanwhile, the airline operator Saratov Airlines said it has grounded An-148 planes like the one that crashed, pending the outcome of the official investigation into the cause of the crash.

The twin-engine plane was developed jointly by Russia and Ukraine in the early 2000s, but was phased out of production after relations soured in the wake of Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula in 2014 and backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

AP reported that the An-148 model has a spotty safety record, with one previous crash and a string of major incidents in which pilots struggled to land safely.

Russia Looks For Cause Of Fatal Air Crash Near Moscow
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The aircraft was originally developed by Ukraine's Antonov company and, under a cooperation agreement with Russia, about 40 planes were manufactured in Russia by Voronezh Aircraft Production Company using engines and other components provided by Ukraine.

Ukraine on February 12 said it will send specialists to join Russia's crash investigation.

Production of the An-148 was halted in Russia last year. AP said media reports indicated that some carriers, including Saratov, afterward experienced a shortage of spare parts. It said some airlines reportedly cannibalized some planes to keep others airworthy.

A Russian pilot, Andrei Litvinov, told independent Dozhd TV that some regional carriers in Russia were facing financial difficulties and had cut corners on servicing aircraft.

"They are trying to save money on maintaining their planes to prevent going under," he said.

Russian officials said the crew of the downed airline did not report any malfunction or send a distress signal before the crash.

Saratov said the jet had received proper maintenance and passed all the necessary checks before the flight.

"The crew was experienced; the plane was reliable," Yelena Voronova, a spokeswoman for the airline, told U.S. television network ABC.

AP reported that one An-148 crashed during a training flight in Russia in March 2011, killing all six crew members on board. Investigators blamed pilot error.

Personnel work at the scene of the crash in the village of Stepanovskoye, about 40 kilometers from Domodedovo airport, on February 12.
Personnel work at the scene of the crash in the village of Stepanovskoye, about 40 kilometers from Domodedovo airport, on February 12.

AP also reported several other instances of An-148 planes experiencing major engine failures and loss of control after takeoff since 2010 in Russia, though it said the crew in each previous case was able to safely land the plane.

Russian authorities on February 12 appeared to rule out terrorism as the cause of the crash, saying the aircraft was intact and not on fire before it hit the ground.

The plane's fuel tanks exploded on impact, scattering wreckage across a wide swathe of territory, according to the Emergency Situations Ministry. It said it used drones to help search for pieces of the plane and human remains buried in deep snow at the site of the crash around 70 kilometers southeast of Moscow.

A list provided by the ministry showed that the passengers ranged in age from 5 to 79 and most were from Orsk, where authorities declared an official day of mourning on February 12.

Officials said the dead also included two foreigners -- an Azerbaijani man and a Swiss engineer whose job was connected to an oil refinery in Orsk.

"The rescue effort is over. All 71 people who were on board are dead," Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov told reporters on February 12. "My sincere condolences to their families and friends."

"We are predicting rescue and recovery operations here...will continue for seven days, given the very large area where the plane debris has been scattered, heavy snow, and a tough landscape," he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump offered his condolences to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call late on February 12, and said the United States is willing to assist in the investigation, the White House said.

The crash prompted Putin to remain in Moscow and put off a planned trip to the Black Sea resort city of Sochi on February 12.

Dvorkovich said the families of each victim will receive over 3.5 million rubles ($60,000) in compensation.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, Current Time TV, TASS, Interfax, Reuters, AP, AFP, BBC, and ABC
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