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story.lead_photo.caption Emergency service vehicles line up Sunday at the entrance of Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, where a passenger jet crash-landed and caught fire.

MOSCOW -- Dozens of people were feared dead Sunday after a Russian-made passenger jet made an emergency landing at a Moscow airport, trailing a plume of flame and black smoke and skidding to a stop while on fire.

Russian officials were giving out conflicting numbers of casualties, but they indicate that at least 40 people died.

Elena Markovskaya, a spokesman for Russia's Investigative Committee, said at a briefing early today that there were 73 passengers and five crew members. Of those 78 people, she said, 41 died and 37 survived.

But Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova later said that 38 people survived. She didn't give a death toll.

Dozens of people were unaccounted for after the landing. The victims included one member of the crew and at least two teenagers, according to the Investigative Committee.

Video on Russian television shows fire bursting from the underside of the plane -- a Sukhoi SSJ100 regional jet flown by Russia's flagship carrier Aeroflot -- after the plane made a hard emergency landing. Passengers are seen escaping the aircraft.

The flight had taken off from the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow bound for Murmansk, a port city in northern Russia.

Immediately after takeoff, the pilots radioed a distress call, Interfax reported, and the plane circled back. The cockpit crew stopped responding by radio after reporting the emergency, Interfax reported.

Flightradar24, which tracks transponders on airplanes, showed the jet looping once in the air before landing. Russian news agencies said the pilots landed on their second attempt.

The exact time when the fire started was not clear. Some Russian news reports cited sources as saying the plane headed back to the airport because a fire was detected in flight, while others said the emergency was something else and that the plane caught fire after landing. The airport only said that the jet turned back for unspecified technical reasons.

Video showed that the outside of the aircraft was not burning on its final approach. The plane bounced on touchdown and caught fire as it struck the runway a second time. Then the plane skidded along the runway with its nose angled upward, the engines scraping the ground and flames streaking out behind.

Later, flames could be seen spreading on the pavement, suggesting that fuel was leaking and burning. Fire crews sprayed the plane from trucks.

Dozens of people, if not hundreds, witnessed the crash from inside the terminal, where waiting areas and restaurants offer expansive views of the runways.

"We were witnesses to this horror," one woman, Alena Osokina, told Russia's Dozhd television station.

Osokina was in an airport restaurant when she saw the plane land.

"Right in front of our eyes, we saw an airplane on fire streaking down the runway," Osokina said. "It was in the grips of flame. Flames were devouring it every second."

Kommersant FM, a radio station, posted a cellphone video taken by a passenger on the airplane as it landed that showed a scene of panic and terror. It showed a burning engine and flames at times obscuring the entire window. As smoke starts to fill the cabin, one woman screams. Another yells, "Help! Help!"

Others took videos from inside the terminal and posted them on social media. "Amazing," a witness can be heard saying on one of them.

The Sukhoi Superjet is largely used in Russia as a replacement for outdated Soviet-era aircraft and was the first passenger plane designed in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. The plane has also been used by airlines in other countries, including Armenia and Mexico.

But safety concerns with the Sukhoi Superjet emerged soon after its introduction in 2008. Dozens of employees at the Siberia plant were found to have faked their university engineering diplomas.

In 2012, a Superjet crashed into a mountain in Indonesia during a sales demonstration flight carrying 37 aviation executives and journalists, and eight crew members, killing all aboard. An investigation cited pilot error.

In 2016, Russian safety regulators grounded the fleet after discovering metal fatigue, usually a problem associated with older airplanes, in the tail section of a Sukhoi jet. Russian aviation officials have said the plane had no more than the typical problems of a new aircraft.

Sukhoi Civil Aircraft said the plane in Sunday's accident had received maintenance at the beginning of April. Aeroflot said the pilot had some 1,400 hours of experience flying the plane.

Aeroflot has worked hard to overcome its once-poor safety image. Safety woes shadowed the company in the immediate post-Soviet period. In 1994, for example, a pilot let his 16-year-old son fly an Airbus that promptly crashed, killing all 75 aboard.

Recently, however, the airline has operated one of Europe's newest fleets of passenger jets.

Information for this article was contributed by Andrew E. Kramer of The New York Times; and by Jim Heintz and staff members of The Associated Press.

Photo by AP/RICCARDO DALLA FRANCESCA
A Russian-made passenger jet leaves a trail of fire and smoke Sunday as it makes an emergency landing at an airport in Moscow. The plane took off from the airport but immediately radioed a distress call and returned. Russian officials indicated that dozens of people were killed in the incident.

A Section on 05/06/2019

Print Headline: Russian plane makes fiery landing

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