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By Associated Press
MOSCOW — A Russian airliner that took off from Moscow was airborne for just 28 minutes before returning to make an emergency landing while still heavy with unburned fuel, which thenignited after a rough touchdown.
Flames quickly engulfed the aircraft,killing 41 of the 78 people aboard. The victims included a recent college graduate from Santa Fe, New Mexico, who was on his way to serve as a fishing guide in northwest Russia.
A day after Sunday’s accident at Sheremetyevo airport, Russian news media quoted the pilot, Denis Evdokimov, as saying he followed procedures for landing with excess weight. But the crew reportedly did not dump any fuel, which is common for flights that have to land soon after takeoff to prevent being overly heavy.
The pilot said he was not certain why the Aeroflot plane landed hard. Video showed flames bursting from the jet’s underside as it touched down, then raging across the rear of the Sukhoi SSJ100’s fuselage within seconds as the airliner bounced down the runway.
When the plane came to a halt, some of the people aboard plunged down inflatable slides deployed from the forward part of the plane.
Some of those who escaped were carrying luggage, raising concerns that grabbing their bags may have delayed an evacuation in which every second was critical.
“I do not know what to say about people who ran out with bags. God is their judge,” survivor Mikhail Savchenko wrote on Facebook.
Evdokimov, the pilot, said the plane had lost radio communications because of a lightning strike, but it was not clear if that precipitated the emergency landing.
Russia’s main investigative agency said both of the plane’s flight recorders — data and voice — were recovered from the charred wreckage. Agency spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko was also quoted by Russian news agencies on Monday as saying that investigators were looking into three main possibilities behind the cause of the disaster: inexperienced pilots, equipment failure and bad weather.
Storms were passing through the Moscow area when the plane landed.
The SSJ100, also known as the Superjet, was heralded when it went into service in 2011 as a new phase for Russia’s civil aviation industry. It was introduced as a replacement for outdated Soviet-designed aircraft.
But the plane has been troubled by concerns about defects in the horizontal stabilizers. Russia’s aviation authority in 2017 ordered inspection of all Superjets in the country because of the problems. A Mexican airline, Interjet, grounded Superjets in December 2016 and later said it was phasing them out of the fleet.
Transportation Minister Yevegny Dietrich said Monday that it was too early to decide whether to ground the planes in Russia.