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Engine failure cited in Russian crash

Jet caught on fire as it prepared to land, officials say

The right engine of the Boeing 737-500 caught fire as it prepared to land in Perm yesterday, investigators (left) said. Flight 821, operated by an Aeroflot subsidiary, was carrying 82 passengers and six crew members. The right engine of the Boeing 737-500 caught fire as it prepared to land in Perm yesterday, investigators (left) said. Flight 821, operated by an Aeroflot subsidiary, was carrying 82 passengers and six crew members. (Kirill Kudryavstsev/ AFP/ Getty Images)
By Olga Tregubova
Associated Press / September 15, 2008
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PERM, Russia - A Russian passenger plane that caught on fire as it fell from the sky yesterday probably suffered engine failure before it crashed, killing all 88 people on board, investigators said.

The right engine of the Boeing 737-500 caught fire as it prepared to land in Perm, they said. The plane came down on the outskirts of the city, hitting the ground just a few hundred yards from small wooden houses and apartment buildings. Officials said no one on the ground was killed.

Flight 821, operated by an Aeroflot subsidiary, carried 82 passengers, including six children under 10, and six crew members, Aeroflot said.

Aeroflot officials said the plane was circling at about 3,600 feet in "difficult weather conditions" - including low cloud cover and rain - when it lost contact with ground dispatchers.

Witnesses said the plane was on fire as it fell.

"I felt an explosion, it threw me off the bed," a woman in Perm who was not identified told Vesti-24 television. "My neighbors, other witnesses told me that it was burning in the air, it looked like a comet. It hit the ground opposite the next house, trailing like fireworks in the sky."

It crashed about 3:15 a.m. on the outskirts of Perm, about 750 miles east of Moscow. The most likely cause was engine failure, Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the federal prosecutors' Investigative Committee, said in televised comments.

The head of the Investigative Committee said examination of the site showed the crash "apparently was connected to technical failure and a fire in the right engine," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

"There is much evidence for this," Alexander Bastrykin was quoted as saying. The plane's flight recorders have been found, and officials said it will take three to four weeks to analyze them.

Emergency workers in camouflage uniforms picked up human remains and placed them in blue bags. Relatives of passengers said they were asked to provide DNA samples to help in the identification. Part of the Trans-Siberian railway was shut down temporarily as a result of the rail damage, but traffic was restored later in the day, the national railroad company said.

Pavel Shevchenko, 36, a Perm resident who lives just 300 yards from the crash site, said he was awoken by an explosion and ran outside. He said a neighbor who saw the crash told him the plane hit the ground at a 30- or 40-degree angle. Shevchenko said he feared his acquaintances or friends could be among the dead.

"It's awful. There's just no words to describe it. Perm is a small town, everybody knows everybody else here," he said. Perm is an industrial center with a population of about 1 million. There was also some relief that the plane had not hit any homes when it crashed.

"I think the pilots did everything to save the city," Tatyana Sokolova, a Perm resident, said through tears on Vesti-24 television.

Citizens of Azerbaijan, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States were among those killed, the airline said. The US Embassy, however, said the man listed as an American is not a US citizen and no Americans appeared to have been on the flight.

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