A Boeing 737 jetliner crashed and burst into flames Sunday night while trying to land at the airport in the Russian city of Kazan, killing all 50 people aboard in the latest in a string of deadly crashes across the country.
The Tatarstan Airlines plane was making a second landing attempt when it touched the surface of the runway near the control tower, and was "destroyed and caught fire," said Sergei Izvolky, the spokesman for the Russian aviation agency.
The Emergencies Ministry said there were 44 passengers and six crew members aboard the evening flight from Moscow, and all had been killed. Kazan, a city of about 1.1 million and the capital of the Tatarstan republic, is about 450 miles east of Moscow.
The ministry released a list of the dead, which included Irek Minnikhanov, the son of Tatarstan's governor, and Alexander Antonov, who headed the Tatarstan branch of the Federal Security Service, the main successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB.
Some Russian air crashes have been blamed on the use of aging aircraft, but industry experts point to a number of other problems, including poor crew training, crumbling airports, lax government controls and widespread neglect of safety in the pursuit of profits.
It was not clear why the plane's first landing attempt was unsuccessful. Boeing said it would provide assistance to the investigation into the cause.
"Boeing's thoughts are with those affected by the crash," said a statement posted on the company’s website.
No statement or additional information about the crash was immediately available on the airline’s website.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the disaster "a frightening tragedy," offering his condolences to the relatives of the victims through a Twitter account.
A journalist who said she had flown on the same aircraft from Kazan to Moscow's Domodedovo airport earlier in the day told Channel One state television that the landing in Moscow had been frightening because of a strong vibration during the final minutes of the flight.
"When we were landing it was not clear whether there was a strong wind, although in Moscow the weather was fine, or some kind of technical trouble or problem with the flight," said Lenara Kashafutdinova. "We were blown in different directions, the plane was tossed around. The man sitting next to me was white as a sheet."
Russia's last fatal airliner crash was in December, when a Russian-made Tupolev belonging to Red Wings airline careered off the runway at Moscow's Vnukovo airport, rolled across a snowy field and slammed into the slope of a nearby highway, breaking into pieces and catching fire. Investigators say equipment failure caused the crash, which killed five people.
Russia spans nine time zones, from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean across large areas of largely uninhabited land, making efficient air travel and train links especially important to the country's economy. In Soviet times Aeroflot had a virtual monopoly of the airline industry, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union a multitude of small, private companies emerged.
A spokesman for state aviation oversight agency Rosaviatsia said authorities would search for the downed plane’s flight recorders.
Russia and the former Soviet republics combined have one of the world's worst air-traffic safety records, with a total accident rate almost three times the world average in 2011, according to the International Air Transport Association.
IATA said last year that global airline safety had improved, but that accident rates had risen in Russia and the ex-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States.
In April 2012, at least 31 people were killed when a Russian passenger plane crashed shortly after take-off in Siberia. In Sept. 2011, a Yak-42 passenger jet carrying members of a major league ice hockey team came down shortly after take-off and burst into flames near the Russian city of Yaroslavl, killing 44 people.
The Boeing 737 is the most common passenger jet in commercial use around the world today. There have been 170 crashes involving this model of aircraft since it came into use.
In the Russian city of Perm in 2008, a Boeing 737 exploded minutes before landing, killing 88 people.
Al Jazeera & Wire Services