Russia is reeling with the news that Tatarstan Airlines flight 363 has crashed, killing all 50 people on board the airplane. The crash occurred at 7:45 p.m. local time Sunday evening. The Boeing 737 had six crew members and 44 passengers on board when it crashed during a landing attempt at a central Russian airport in Kazan, the capital of the Russian republic Tatarstan, which is located approximately 450 miles from Moscow. The flight originated in Moscow, but ended on the tarmac in Kazan after catching fire and breaking apart. According to the deputy prime minister of Tatrarstan, Yuri Kamaltynov, the son of Rustam Minnikhanov, the president of the Tatarstan republic, was killed in the crash. Tatarstan’s department of the Federal Security Service head, Alexander Antonov, died in the crash as well. The plane belonged to regional air company Tatarstan.
Now searching for the flight recorders in the midst of the debris, the investigation is in the beginning stages and there is no definitive indication as yet as to what might have caused the jet to catch on fire and break apart. News agency Interfax is reporting that it has been told by law enforcement officials that human error and technical failure both may have contributed to the crash. Information is starting to emerge that the equipment may have failed, as, approximately 550 yards from the tarmac, pilots may have told air control that they were not ready to land.
A senior meteorologist in Russia appeared on television to report that at the time of the crash, Kazan was experiencing strong wind gusts that seemed to come out of nowhere, suggesting that weather could have been the cause for the airplane crash which killed all 50 people on board. The plane was making its second landing attempt when it touched down on the runway, was “destroyed and caught fire,” according to the spokesman for the Russian aviation agency, Sergei Izvolky.
The Boeing 737 is Russia’s most popular passenger plane and has been one of its most reliable to date. An unidentified law enforcement source has been quoted as reporting that the plane, which had 23 years of service and had been used by a minimum of eight airlines previously, last year had to cut a flight to Moscow short and return for an emergency landing in Kazan due to depressurization.
Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, expressed sympathy through his presidential spokesman to the families of those who died. Putin has ordered the creation of a special commission to investigate the crash. The airline itself is faced with possible criminal charges if a separate investigation into alleged safety violations finds that criminal acts have occurred. Russian TV aired footage of what was reported as a large flame taking over the plane while it sat on the dark tarmac, heedless of the water cannons being used against it by fire trucks on the scene.
Russia has seen its share of plane crashes in recent history. Last December, five people were killed when a plane left the runway in Moscow and crashed into a nearby highway. More well-known is the 2011 crash that took place in Yaroslavl and listed a professional hockey team among the 44 people killed. Former president Dmitry Medved, in an effort to increase safety standards, maintained that Russia must upgrade its airplanes and cut a large number of airlines, and after two crashes in 2011, Medved took two types of Soviet-era airplanes out of service. When the final cause of this airplane crash that killed all 50 people on board is known, Russia will have to face the fact that a declining fleet and a lack of investment in its airlines may be the underlying cause that unites all of its recent plane crashes.
By Jennifer Pfalz