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A Russian passenger jet crashed several minutes after takeoff from Moscow's Domodedovo Airport on Sunday, killing all 71 people on board, Russia's Air Transport Agency confirmed.
"Fragments of the An-148 and several bodies have been found near the village of Stepanovskoye," the agency said in a statement released by the state-run TASS news agency. A cockpit recorder and parts of the fuselage were retrieved from the crash site, Russia's Emergencies Ministry reported.
Authorities said it was too early to determine the cause of the crash, including whether the tragedy was terror-related. Preliminary reports indicated the pilots did not report any technical problems or activate a mayday call, Russia’s Investigative Committee said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered establishment of a special commission to investigate the crash, and Russian Investigative Committee spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko said a criminal investigation had been launched.
Saratov Airlines Flight 703, with 65 passengers and a crew of six, was bound for Orsk when it departed Moscow at 2:21 p.m. local time, the ministry said. Radio contact was lost a few minutes after takeoff, and the plane disappeared from air traffic control radars.
Aerial footage, released by Russia’s Emergencies Ministry (EMERCOM), shows rescuers working at the crash scene near the village of Argunovo, searching for evidence that can unriddle the cause of Sunday’s crash. Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov ordered drones to be used to search for bodies as debris is spread across a vast area between adjacent villages.
Overnight the emergency crews wrapped up their desperate search for possible survivors, as all 65 passengers and six crew of Saratov Airlines Flight 703 were pronounced dead on impact. Authorities already recovered one of the An-148’s flight recorders. The task is hampered by harsh snowy conditions, but Puchkov hopes his services can conclude their work within a week.
Besides the massive presence of EMERCOM personnel, a hundred officers from the Investigative Committee are also working at the crash site. In total at least 600 people are working the site in three shifts. Investigators have already established the point of impact – a pit measuring seven meters in length, four meters in width and one and a half meters in depth.
The cause of the crash is currently under investigation with authorities considering technical malfunction, weather conditions and pilot error among the possibilities. Earlier, eyewitnesses noted seeing a flash in the sky, alleging that one of the engines could have malfunctioned and exploded.
Source: USA Today and Reuters