A military plane carrying soldiers to a southern republic to quell ethnic unrest crashed into the Caspian Sea after an engine caught fire, killing all 57 people aboard, Soviet media reported Thursday.
The official Tass news agency said the Ilyushin-76 transport plane crashed Wednesday night after taking off from an airport in the Caucasus Military District of Azerbaijan.It said the plane carried a crew of seven and 50 passengers.
The daily newspaper Izvestia said the left engine of the plane caught fire minutes after it took off from the unidentified airport in the ethnically troubled republic of Azerbaijan.
"The fire spread so fast that within three minutes, the engine fell off, but the fire did not stop," the newspaper reported, quoting Col. Gen. V. Pankin. He said Commander A. Kalmikov, 48, tried to fly the crippled plane back to the airport.
A few miles from the airport, the plane "careened sharply to the left and fell" into shallow water less than a mile from shore, the newspaper said.
Interior Minister Vadim Bakatin told a news conference that workers recovered parts of the engines and fuselage from the water. The IL-76 has four turbofan engines and wings mounted atop the fuselage.
Tass said military authorities were trying to determine the cause of the fire.
"The USSR Defense Ministry expressed its deep condolences to the families of the dead," Tass said.
Troops have been patrolling Azerbaijan and neighboring Armenia since last year to prevent more violence between residents feuding over the Nagorno-Karabakh territorial district, a predominantly Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan.
Tass said the troops aboard the IL-76 were among those keeping order in Azerbaijan.