Moscow: A Boeing 737-800 passenger jet operated by low cost airline FlyDubai crashed while attempting to land in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don on Saturday, killing all 62 passengers, including two Indians.
The flight was en route from Dubai and had been circling the airport for up to two hours after an initial aborted landing attempt, according to Russian news reports. There were high winds in the area at the time.
The plane was coming in for a second attempt to land at 3 am when it plunged to the ground and burst into flames. The crash occurred inside the airport’s perimeter, about 250 metres short of the runway.
Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup said the two Indians who appear on a list put out by the Russian authorities are Anju Kathirvel Aiyappan and Mohan Shyam.
According to Flydubai, an Emirates budget airline with a new fleet of planes that started flying in mid-2009, the jet was carrying 55 passengers, 33 women, 18 men, four children, and seven crew members, CNN reported.
Initial reports suggested that all passengers on board were Russians; however, the Emergencies Ministry later confirmed that 11 foreigners were on board, including all the crew members.
FlyDubai said the passengers included 44 Russians, eight Ukrainians, two Indians and one Uzbekistani.
“While we are still awaiting final confirmation, it is with great sadness that we report we believe there are no survivors,” FlyDubai said on the airline’s Facebook page.
Speaking about the incident, FlyDubai chief executive Ghaith al-Ghaith said: “Our primary concern is for the families of the passengers and crew who were on board.
“Everyone at FlyDubai is in deep shock and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those involved. We don’t yet know all the details of the accident, but we are working closely with the authorities to establish the cause,” he said.
The airport will remain closed until Sunday, and medics and psychologists were on standby to assist family members, the Emergencies Ministry said.
About 700 people were involved in the rescue operation. The crash site was 243 metres from the airport runway, it mentioned.
Al-Ghaith has excluded the possibility of a terror act on the ill-fated flight FZ981. No distress signal was issued by the pilots either, he said.
Al-Ghaith insisted that the captain, Aristos Socratous, was a highly experienced pilot with over 5,700 flight hours and that the plane was new. Manufactured in 2011, the aircraft passed its latest maintenance on 21 January, 2016.
"The aircraft hit the ground and broke into pieces," the Investigative Committee of Russia said on its website.
The plane's flight path, as tracked by Flight Radar 24, showed the plane made a number of turns near the Rostov-on-Don airport prior to the final landing.
The Russian Investigative Committee launched an investigation, and was considering three potential causes, state-run Ria Novosti news agency reported.
"Different versions of the incident are being investigated, including crew error, technical failure, bad weather and other factors," it quoted committee chief Vladimir Markin as saying.
Spokesman for the southern bureau of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Oksana Kovrizhnaya, has put forward two versions of the crash: “Pilot error in deteriorating weather conditions or a technical failure,” she said.
Both FZ981 flight data recorders have been recovered from the crash site. Experts were evaluating whether any data can be retrieved from them, said Vladimir Markin.
The cockpit voice recorder was found in the morning and the parametric recorder was recovered later in the day.
According to investigative committee experts who examined the flight recorders, the black boxes are in a "normal condition", Oksana Kovrizhnaya said, adding that the data would be extracted as soon as possible.
The Russian government has announced a compensation of $15,000 to the family of each deceased.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to the relatives and loved ones of the victims.
“The Russian President feels deeply for all those who lost their loved ones in the Boeing 737 crash in Rostov-on-Don,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced on Saturday, stressing that the President has made it a priority to provide all possible assistance to the relatives of the victims.
The government-owned FlyDubai, a no-frills sister airlines to Emirates, was established in March 2008.
The airline had a strong safety record, but one of its planes was hit by a bullet as it landed in Baghdad airport in January 2015, prompting multiple airlines to suspend flights to the Iraqi capital. No one was hurt.
The last major aviation disaster involving Russia was on 31 October last year, when a Russian airliner blew up in the air over Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, killing all 224 aboard. Investigators determined it was destroyed by a bomb.