Airliner crashes in Russia; at least 55 aboard reported dead

In this photo provided by Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, Russian emergency trucks are seen near the area of the plane crash at the Rostov-on-Don airport, about 950 kilometers (600 miles) south of Moscow, Russia Saturday, March 19, 2016. An airliner with 61 people aboard coming from Dubai crashed early Saturday while landing in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said. (Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations via AP)

(CNN) — A Boeing 737 passenger jet crashed as it was landing at the Rostov-on-Don airport in southern Russia, the country’s Southern Regional Emergency Center said Saturday.

Flydubai Flight 981 had traveled from Dubai to Rostov-on-Don with 61 people aboard.

All those on board have died, Russian state news agency Tass reported, citing an official at the emergency center.

Psychologists on scene

Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov told media that the jet had been carrying 55 passengers and six crew members when it crashed while attempting to land for the second time. It was scheduled to land at 6:20 p.m. ET (1:20 a.m. Moscow time), but went down at 8:50 p.m. ET (3:50 a.m.), Puchkov said.

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Rostov-on-Don airport had been closed and teams of medics and psychologists are on standby to give assistant to family members, he said.

The Ministry of Emergency Situations said it had deployed 80 rescuers to the site of the crash.

It said investigators had ruled out terrorism as a cause of the crash at this stage and that weather conditions were most-likely responsible.

The plane’s pilot had circled the airport, waiting for the weather to clear before reattempting to land, but the aircraft’s tail had clipped the runway, the ministry said.

State media reported winds of 97 kph (60 mph) at the time of the crash.

Thoughts and prayers

In a statement, flydubai confirmed that its plane had crashed on landing, resulting in fatalities.

“At this moment our thoughts and prayers are with our passengers and our crew who were on board the aircraft. We will do everything we can to help those who have been affected by this accident,” the airline said.

“We are putting our emergency response in place and we will be working closely with all the authorities involved. We will share as much information as possible just as soon as we can and we will provide updated information on a regular basis.”

Most of those aboard the crashed plane were local residents but preliminary data suggested three foreigners were also involved, Russia’s state-run Sputnik news agency reported, quoting the emergency center.

Pilot disorientation?

CNN aviation expert Mary Schiavo said radar suggested the plane had flown three large, looping circles around the airport before it crashed.

“The poor visibility is probably the biggest clue,” Schiavo said. “But this runway was lighted, it had good lighting at one end and passable lighting at the other and it did have an instrument landing system,” she said.

“With the clue of bad weather and making at least three different circles trying to reorient to this runway it does look like pilot disorientation.”

Meantime, Aviation Safety Analyst David Soucie agreed with the ministry’s preliminary assessment that weather was likely to blame.

“It’s not likely it was a mechanical failure,” Soucie said. “It’s most-likely a weather-related incident.”

Boeing Airlines tweeted that it was aware of the reports coming out of Russia and was gathering more details.

Developing story – more to come

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