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Russian jet crashes near Moscow, all 71 passengers killed

Sheetal Sukhija - Monday 12th February, 2018

MOSCOW, Russia - After 2017 was declared as the safest year on record for air travel, a Russian airliner crashed on Sunday, leaving all 71 people onboard dead.

Minutes after take-off from Moscow's Domodedovo airport, the Saratov Airlines jet vanished and was said to have crashed near the village of Argunovo, about 80km (50 miles) south-east of Moscow.

Investigators and emergency crews that rushed to the snow-covered site said that the plane took off at 14:27 (11:27 GMT) on Sunday and contact was lost four minutes later.

According to flight-tracking site Flightradar24, the jet then descended at the rate of 1,000m (3,300ft) per minute.

Eyewitnesses quoted in local reports stated that the jet was on fire as it went down and officials later confirmed that the crash had killed all 65 passengers and six crew on board.

Officials have said that the Antonov An-148 was en route to the city of Orsk in the Ural mountains when it crashed and a majority of the passengers were reportedly from Orenburg.

The cause of the crash remains unclear and Russian officials have denied reports that the pilot had reported a malfunction.

The regional head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations Sergei Poletykin said in a conference call that authorities have found a black box belonging to the aircraft and have cordoned off the area of the crash site.

Officials also added that pieces of wreckage and bodies were found spread over a large area.

Commenting on the incident, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to the victims' families and announced an inquiry into the cause of the crash.

Putin even postponed a planned trip to Sochi to closely monitor the investigation.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin "expresses deep condolences to all those who lost their relatives and friends in this disaster."

He added, “The president instructed the government to set up a special commission in connection with the plane crash in the Moscow region and instructed the relevant agencies to conduct the necessary search operations.”

Putin was to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Monday in the Black Sea resort where the president has an official residence. 

Now, Peskov confirmed that Abbas will meet with Putin in Moscow in the latter part of Monday.

In recent years, Russian airlines have suffered two major plane crashes, but according to official figures, this is the first commercial passenger jet crash in more than a year.

The year 2017 was declared as the safest year on record for air travel in the region.

Before that, on December 25, 2016, a Tu-154 military airliner crashed into the Black Sea.

That crash killed all 92 people aboard and the disaster was blamed on pilot error.

Previously, on October 31, 2015, all 224 people - mostly tourists - aboard a Russian Airbus A321 were killed when the plane crashed in Sinai, Egypt.

At the time, the Islamic State group said it had placed a bomb aboard the plane.

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