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Russian Plane Crashes In Arctic

Plane Crash, generic story image, 020320, GD.
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A 1970s-era Russian turboprop airliner carrying 53 people crashed and caught fire Wednesday while trying to land near an oil port along the Arctic coast, and at least 29 people were killed, officials said. Some survivors used a satellite phone to call authorities from the wreckage.

A Russian emergency official said on condition of anonymity that the plane's tail was falling apart before the crash. The investigation into the crash was underway.

There were 46 passengers and seven crew members aboard the Regional Airlines An-24 plane that crashed near Varandei in the Nenets autonomous region along Russia's Arctic coast. Regional is a small private carrier.

Twenty-nine people were killed, said Sergei Vlasov, spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry. Of the 24 survivors, 10 were in grave condition, Vlasov said.

Most of the passengers worked for the Lukoil oil company.

Yuri Kovalyov, spokesman for the local branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry, said survivors contacted authorities on a satellite phone and rescuers quickly reached the site.

The plane was approaching the airport when it suddenly banked and slammed into the ground near Varandei, about 1,110 miles northeast of Moscow.

The plane departed from the city of Ufa in the southern Ural Mountains region and made stopovers in the cities of Perm and Usinsk before continuing on to Varandei.

The An-24 is a Soviet-designed turboprop airliner built in the 1960s for short and medium-length trips. Hundreds are still in service with airlines in Russia and other former Soviet republics, and analysts have warned that small airlines have had trouble properly maintaining the aging aircraft.

The Transport Ministry said in a statement that the plane that crashed was built in 1972 and had been repaired 10 times, the latest in 2002. The plane's chief pilot, Viktor Popov, who apparently died in the crash, had logged up 14,000 flight hours, it said.

"It was a very experienced crew," the chief of the Transport Ministry's aviation department, Alexander Neradko, said in televised comments.

Russia's Lukoil oil company is currently upgrading the Varandei port on the Arctic Pechora Sea. Lukoil and U.S. oil company ConocoPhillips have established a joint venture, Rusco, to develop the oil-rich fields in the Timan-Pechora region with the intention of ultimately shipping crude to the United States from Varandei.

Most of the passengers worked for Lukoil, company spokesman Mikhail Mikhailov said.