Rostov-on-Don: Aviation experts on Sunday began examining the black boxes from the FlyDubai flight that crashed amid high winds at an airport in southern Russia but said the cockpit voice and data recorders were badly damaged.
The Boeing 737, which flew from Dubai to the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, exploded into a fireball early on Saturday after missing the runway in bad weather as it was reportedly making its second attempt to land after circling for several hours.
Sergei Zaiko, deputy chairman of the Inter-State Aviation Committee, told Russia's Channel One that experts today were looking at the data recorders, which were delivered to Moscow earlier in the day. But the committee that investigates plane crashes in much of the former Soviet Union said in a statement they had been badly damaged and it was not immediately clear what, if any, data could be retrieved.
The black boxes were being viewed by experts from Russia, the United Arab Emirates, France and the US, since the American-made Boeing plane had French-made engines.
Investigators confirmed that all 55 passengers and seven crew, including nine different nationalities, with two from India and 45 coming from Russia, died instantly and launched a criminal probe into whether pilot error, a technical fault or poor weather was to blame. The Indians killed were identified as Mohan Shyam and wife Anju Kathirvel Aiyappan.
State-owned Rossiya-24 on Sunday interviewed a woman living nearby who said she was woken up by the sound of the explosion.
"The housed started shaking. I looked out of the window: the sky was red and in a few seconds it was over," said the woman, whom Rossiya did not identify.
Closed-circuit TV footage showed the plane going down at a steep angle and exploding. The powerful explosion left a big crater in the runway and pulverized the plane and passengers' remains.
Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said on Sunday that emergency service workers had completed their "search and rescue" operation by 1130 IST at the site where tangled debris was spread across a wide area and that authorities were now waiting for investigators to give the green light to let repair teams onto runway. Sokolov said he expects the airport to open early Monday.
Investigators were to spend the day combing the scene for clues of what caused the crash, Sokolov said, with representatives from state-owned budget airline FlyDubai - a sister firm of Emirates Airlines - arriving to aid the probe.
Sources told Russian news agencies that the two black boxes from the Boeing jet, holding vital flight data, had been transported to Moscow for examination.
Authorities also said they were starting the grisly task of identifying the collected human remains using DNA samples from relatives.
Residents in Rostov-on-Don, a city of some 1 million around 1,000 kilometres south of Moscow, laid flowers and cuddly toys at the airport entrance as they tried to digest the tragedy.
"I came to give remembrance to those who died. I am from Rostov myself and although I don't personally know those killed, a lot of names are well known, it's a small city," local resident Boris told AFP.
The arrivals and departures boards in the terminal were red with cancelled flights as the airport remained closed but officials said that it could start working again normally as early as tomorrow.
The passengers on board flight FZ981, which took off from Dubai at 2350 IST Friday and had been due to land at 0410 IST, included 44 Russian nationals, eight Ukrainians, two Indians and one Uzbek, the airline said. They comprised 33 women, 18 men and four children.
The company said the Cypriot pilot and Spanish co-pilot each had nearly 6,000 hours of flying experience.
The five other crew members were from Spain, Russia, the Seychelles, Colombia and Kyrgyzstan.
Investigators said in an initial statement yesterday that the plane had "skimmed the ground and broke into several pieces" with fragments of the Boeing 737 reportedly scattered up to 1.5 kilometres from the crash site.
Unconfirmed security footage on Russian state television appeared to show the jet plummeting nose first into the ground at high speed before exploding. A strong wind warning was in place and it was raining hard at the time of the crash.
With inputs from agencies