Chinese Among Casualties in Russian Jet Crash

Search teams found one of the "black box" flight recorders of a crashed Russian airliner on Wednesday and said Chinese nationals were among more than 140 people killed when it plunged into Siberian woodland.

All passengers and crew died when the Tupolev 154 crashed and exploded on a Tuesday evening flight from the Urals city of Yekaterinburg to Vladivostok in Russia's far east, as it approached the city of Irkutsk for a scheduled stop.

It made two abortive attempts to land and crashed on its third approach, Russian media said, dropping from the sky about 30 km (18 miles) away from Irkutsk and bursting into flames.

"One black box has been found, we are still searching for the other," Emergencies Ministry duty officer Valery Kuzin told Reuters by telephone from Irkutsk.

"The fire has been put out and our men are searching through the fragments," he said. "But the plane was totally destroyed and the fragments are very small."

Kuzin said 146 people had died. Officials had initially said that 133 passengers and 10 crew were aboard the plane.

He added that not only Russians had boarded the doomed flight.

"There were Chinese nationals on the plane, but we do not know how many yet, more than 10 and we think maybe 20 people."

The plane, belonging to the airline Vladivostokavia, disappeared from radar screens at about 9:10 p.m. Moscow time (1710 GMT), near the village of Burdakovka.

Russian news agencies quoted witnesses describing a large explosion and fire in a district where many locals have dachas, or small country homes, not far from Lake Baikal.

The Kremlin press office said President Vladimir Putin ordered Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to form a commission to investigate the crash. Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov was to chair the commission. Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Irkutsk to oversee the investigation, agencies reported.

Russia has an elderly civil aviation fleet, mostly built in Soviet times, but has not suffered a major civilian air disaster in several years. A Russian military plane crashed in Georgia last October, killing more than 80 people on board.

The Tupolev 154, a workhorse for Russia's many airlines covering huge distances across the former Soviet Union, has been involved in three previous major crashes on Russian soil since 1994, killing more than 350 people.

( 07/04/2001)

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