KIEV, Aug. 22 - At least 169 people were killed when a Russian passenger jet crashed Tuesday in Ukraine while attempting to perform an emergency landing after suffering turbulence while flying through a major storm.
The Pulkovo airlines Tupolev 154, en route from the Russian Black Sea resort of Anapa to St. Petersburg, Russiaâ€™s second biggest city, disappeared from radar screens over Ukraine about 2:39 p.m. local time, officials said.
Ukraine sent emergency teams to the site of the crash, about 45 km outside of Donetsk. The teams reported wreckage from the plane in flame on the ground. No survivors have been detected.
â€śEveryone is dead,â€ť Irina Andrianova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry in Moscow, told Interfax, citing initial reports from the site of the crash.
President Viktor Yushchenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin were reportedly in the process of getting separate reports on the crash and the rescue efforts. Later in the day, Yushchenko called Putin to express condolences.
Flight 612 took off from Anapa and was bound for St Petersburg with its route crossing Ukrainian territory. The aircraft issued a distress signal at 2:37 p.m. Kiev time, and two minutes later disapppeared from radar screens, officials said.
Ihor Krol, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry, told 5th Channel television that a fire may have broken out in the plane at an altitude of 10,000 meters. The crew decided to make an emergency landing.
Russian officials said lightning may have struck the plane, which was flying thorugh a major storm in the area. Interfax cited witnesses as saying the aircraft was intact when it hit the ground.
Mykola Kulbida, the director of the Ukrainian Weather Center, said there was a major storm and heavy rains in the area, including lightning and hail, during the flight.
The storm and the clouds have been reaching as high at 12-15 km, an altitude that may have affected the aircraft, Kulbida said, citing data recorded by the centerâ€™s radar.
â€śOf course, in clouds as powerful and as high as these, dangerous weather phenomena may have been formed,â€ť Kulbida said. â€śNo matter at which altitude the aircraft had flown, it was in a danger zone.â€ť
It was the third major plane crash in the region this year, and came less than two months after at least 124 people died when an Airbus A-310 of the Russian carrier S7 skidded off a runway and burst into flames on July 9 in the Siberian city of Irkutsk.
On May 3, an A-320 of the Armenian airline Armavia crashed into the Black Sea while trying to land in the Russian resort city of Sochi in rough weather, killing all 113 people aboard.
Russian-made Tu-154s are widely used by Russian airlines for many regional flights. (tl/ez)