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Investigators comb plane crash site for clues

Moscow, Monday

Russian investigators are searching snow-covered fields near Moscow for clues why a passenger plane crashed. All 65 passengers and six crew were killed when the Saratov Airlines jet went down minutes after taking off from Domodedovo airport on Sunday afternoon.

Officials say they are considering weather conditions, human error and technical failure as possible causes. They did not mention the possibility of terrorism. The Antonov An-148 was en route to Orsk in the Ural mountains. It crashed near the village of Argunovo, about 80km south-east of Moscow. Wreckage and body parts are strewn over a large area — about 30 hectares.

More than 700 people are involved in the search operation, struggling through deep snow, but aided by snowmobiles and nine drones. The country’s health minister said recovery of all of the victims’ remains could take up to a week.

So far more than 200 body fragments have been recovered. The emergencies ministry is collecting DNA samples from victims’ relatives — specialists have flown to Orsk to do that. The official list of passengers and crew has been published (in Russian) by the ministry.

A child and two teenagers were among the passengers, most of whom were from the Orenburg region where Orsk is located. The list is still being updated. Among those killed was a man from Switzerland and another from Azerbaijan.

At least 11 passengers were living in or near Moscow. Three were from the St Petersburg area. At least eight passengers were from other parts of Russia, and four of the crew were from Saratov.

President Vladimir Putin has expressed his condolences to the victims’ families. Both the US and the UK governments said they were “deeply saddened” by the tragedy. This is the first commercial passenger jet crash for more than a year – 2017 was the safest year on record for air travel. — BBC

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