Facebook Twitter

Russia plane crash kills all 145 aboard

SHARE Russia plane crash kills all 145 aboard

YEKATERINBURG, Russia — Shocked and grieving relatives of 145 people killed in an air crash gathered at Russian airports Wednesday, waiting for flights to the scene of the country's worst civil air disaster in years.

Investigators sifted through the wreckage of the three-engined Tupolev Tu-154 airliner, strewn across a clearing in a Siberian forest, recovering both the plane's flight recorders.

"Son. Granddaughter," said an elderly man at Yekaterinburg airport. He clutched his face and burst into tears.

"They are not telling us why the plane crashed, but what they are telling us is that the pilot's last words were 'I see the landing strip,' " said a weeping Roza Gavrikova, whose husband had been on the flight.

President Vladimir Putin declared Thursday a national day of mourning, ordering flags to be lowered to half staff and asking for entertainment programs to be struck from TV schedules.

"The whole nation shares your sorrow," Putin said in a message of condolence to bereaved families. "This catastrophe has broken the destinies of entire families, taking the lives of those they loved."

Television pictures showed smoke still rising from the crash site, which was blackened with soot and strewn with debris and bodies. Only the aircraft's wheels and giant tail, bearing the logo of the airline VladivostokAvia, were recognizable in the wreckage.

The plane went down late Tuesday while circling for a scheduled landing at Irkutsk, a regular refueling stop halfway through a flight from Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains to Vladivostok on Russia's Pacific coast.

It made two abortive attempts to land and crashed on its third approach about 18 miles from Irkutsk.

Yekaterinburg airport spokesman Valery Goncharov said the plane was carrying 136 passengers and nine crew, including 12 Chinese nationals and six children.

Emergencies Ministry spokesman Ir-len Li said all 145 bodies had been found.

Officials could draw no immediate conclusions about the cause of the crash. At the scene, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters: "All the commentary you need is right here. What comment can I make?

"It was the third approach at an altitude of 2,800 feet. The plane, as you can see, is facing practically 180 degrees off its course," he said.

"First impressions suggest it fell flat, because debris is not widely spread. We will look around to see if it got caught on anything in the trees."

Deputy Transport Minister Karl Ruppel told Reuters it was not clear what condition the recovered flight recorders were in, or how long it would take to decode them.

Li said emergency workers were gathering body parts in refrigerated trucks and setting up hotel rooms for relatives flying in to identify the dead. Psychologists would be on hand to help them cope. The airline said it would fly relatives to Irkutsk from Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg.

In Yekaterinburg, flight attendant Svetlana Basmanova, whose colleagues rotated with the doomed crew, said among her lost friends were a married couple who left seven children.

"We arrived on that flight and said goodbye to the girls. As always, we wished them clear skies," she said. "I never want to fly again. I'm going home by train."

VladivostokAvia is one of hundreds of private local airlines that emerged across Russia after the Soviet Union broke up and its monolith state airline, Aeroflot, fragmented.

Company deputy director Vladimir Razbezhkin told reporters in Vladivostok that the airline had bought the Tu-154 two months ago from China and had overhauled it.

Russian media said China was selling back to Russian firms its aging Soviet-built Tu-154s, which first entered Soviet service in 1972 and became Aeroflot's main medium-range workhorse.

The mainstay of Russia's aging civil aviation fleet, the Tu-154 has crashed three other times on Russian soil since 1994, killing more than 350 people.