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At Least 122 Dead In Russian Crash

A Russian passenger plane skidded off a rain-slicked Siberian runway early Sunday and plowed through a concrete barrier and into some nearby garages, bursting into flames. At least 122 people were killed and 58 hospitalized, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

The Airbus A-310 operated by Russian airline S7 crashed on landing at Irkutsk airport. It was carrying at least 201 people on a flight from Moscow.

Airline spokesman Konstantin Koshman said there were 193 passengers, including 14 children under the age of 12, and a crew of eight aboard. Emergency Ministry spokeswoman Natalia Lukash said three people whose names were not on the passenger list were pulled unconscious from the wreckage; it was not clear if they had been on the ground or were flying as unregistered passengers.

Many of the children were headed to nearby Lake Baikal on vacation, according to Russian news reports, although Kosmhman said he had no details on that.

S7 was known as "Sibir" until May. The Sibir blue and white logo was still visible on the tail at the crash site, reports CBS News correspondent Beth Knobel. S7 is Russia's second-largest airline, carved out of Aeroflot's Siberian wing after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The plane veered off the runway on landing and tore through a 6-foot-high concrete barrier. It then crashed into a compound of one-story garages, stopping a short distance from some small houses, about 7:50 a.m. (2250 GMT Saturday).

A witness said he heard a concussion and the ground trembled.

"I saw smoke coming from the aircraft. People were already walking out who were charred, injured, burnt," Mikhail Yegeryov told NTV television.

"I asked a person who was in the Airbus what happened, and he said the plane had landed on the tarmac but didn't brake. The cabin then burst into flames," Yegeryov said.

Transport Minister Igor Levitin blamed the wet runway.

"The aircraft veered off the runway. There was rain, the landing strip was wet. So we'll have to check the clutch and the technical condition of the aircraft," he told Russian state television.

The Prosecutor-General's Office said that investigators considered a technical fault or human error as the two most likely versions of the crash, news agencies reported. Koshman, the airline spokesman, said the plane, which was constructed in 1987, had been regularly maintained and met all certifications.

It took firefighters more than two hours to put out the fire, Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova said. There were two explosions caused by the fuel in the plane, Moscow radio reported.

Russian television showed smoke rising from the wreckage and firefighters clambering on top.

"It was traveling at a terrific speed," the Andrianova said. She said the front end of the plane was crumpled in the crash 2,600 miles east of Moscow.

President Vladimir Putin conveyed his condolences to family and friends of the victims and declared Monday a national day of mourning.

Details began to emerge of the chaotic aftermath of the crash. One air stewardess, Viktoria Zilberstein, opened the emergency hatch in the rear of the aircraft and let a number of passengers out, said the Emergency Ministry's regional branch.

Ten passengers managed to escape this way and other survivors, including a pilot, were rescued by firefighters and rescuers from the burning wreckage, ITAR-Tass reported.

The transport minister said the aircraft's two black boxes had been recovered and were being deciphered.

Levitin added that the pilot had radioed ground control to say the aircraft had landed safely and then communication cut off.

Relatives began to arrive later Sunday at Moscow's Domodedovo airport, from where the plane took off.

A man who gave his name only as Vyacheslav, whose brother, wife and their 4-year-old son were on the plane, sat on a stone curb outside a crisis center near the airport fighting back tears. "They're not on the list" of passengers hospitalized, he said.

Later, a woman hurried out of the crisis center smiling, dialed her cellular phone, and exclaimed "Mama, Pashka is alive. He just went into a clinic." The woman, who declined to give her name, said the man was one of her brother's two friends who were on the flight.

In May, another Airbus aircraft crashed in stormy weather off Russia's Black Sea coast as it prepared to land, killing all 113 people on board. Airline officials blamed the crash of the Armenian passenger plane on driving rain and low visibility.

In March 1994, a half-empty Airbus A-310 belonging to Russian state airline Aeroflot crashed near the Siberian city of Novokuznetsk, killing 70 people. Investigators said the crash was caused mainly by the pilot's teenage son inadvertently disconnecting the autopilot.

Sunday's disaster was the fourth air crash in Irkutsk in the past 12 years.

In January 1994, a TU-154 aircraft crashed on takeoff from Irkutsk, killing 124 people. In December 1997, an An-124 military transport aircraft crashed in a residential area of the city, killing 72 people. And in July 2001, a Tu-154 Russian passenger plane crashed near Irkutsk, killing all 143 people on board.

Cash-strapped and saddled with aging aircraft, regional airlines whittled out of Aeroflot were once notorious for their disregard for safety but their records have improved in recent years.

Koshman said there were 11 foreigners on board, from Germany, South Korea, Poland, China and Moldova.