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Tue, Aug 22, 2006

Russian Tu-154M Down In Eastern Ukraine

Officials Expect No Survivors Among 170 Onboard

ANN REALTIME UPDATE 08.22.06 1720 EDT: Officials in the Ukraine have released more details about Tuesday's crash of a Russian Tu-154M airliner bound for St. Petersburg.

The Ukraininan Emergency Situations Ministry confirmed to CNN there were 170 people onboard the Pulkovo Airlines jet, including 39 children. At least 30 bodies have been pulled from the wreckage... and officials expect no survivors will be found.

The Ministry added the plane's pilot reported a fire onboard and heavy turbulence just before the aircraft went down -- but those weren't the first signs of trouble for the airliner. The crew had attempted an emergency landing 10 minutes earlier, but aborted the attempt after the plane's landing gear would not extend.

Original Report

Russia's troubled airline industry suffered another blow Tuesday afternoon, with the loss of a Pulkovo Airlines Tupelov Tu-154M approximately 28 miles north of the Ukrainian state of Donetsk. All 160 passengers and 11 crew members onboard are feared dead.

Officials with the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry told CNN the plane's crew attempted an emergency landing about 20 minutes after takeoff from the Black Sea resort town of Anapa, but the landing gear hadn't worked. Witnesses say the plane was on fire as it came in on its belly.

Officials report heavy storms in the vicinity at the time of the accident -- which they believe played a role in the crash.

"Unfortunately, we believe that no one managed to survive," Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andriyanova said. "The plane most likely was hit by lightning. After it fell, it broke apart and burst into flames."

The airliner was bound for St. Petersburg, and went down just past 3:30 pm Moscow time. It was operating as Flight 161.

The Tu-154 is the most widely-used Russian airliner, carrying nearly half of all air passengers in that country. The type entered service in 1968, with approximately 1,000 produced. Officials say the airliner involved in Tuesday's crash was manufactured in 1992.

Designed as a Russian counterpart to the Boeing 727, the tri-engined Tu-154 has been involved in at least 30 accidents to date -- a figure not helped by mounting safety problems and poor maintenance oversight since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

FMI: http://eng.pulkovo.ru/, www.fas.org/nuke/guide/russia/agency/emercom.htm

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