Russian Plane Catches Fire, Killing Three


A Soviet-made airliner caught fire on Saturday at an airport in Siberia, leaving at least three people dead, three missing and 39 hospitalized with burns, carbon monoxide poisoning and other injuries, officials said.

The crew and the passengers were able to evacuate the plane before it exploded in a huge fireball. Vadim V. Grebennikov, a spokesman for the region’s emergency service, said a fuel tank blew up, spreading burning fuel over an area of up to 10,800 square feet.

Investigators have opened a criminal case into violations of air safety rules.

The plane was a Tupolev Tu-154, a three-engine model that was the mainstay of Soviet aviation. Russia halted mass production of the jet about 20 years ago, and Aeroflot has withdrawn the model from service because of safety concerns. But about 200 remain in service, according to experts, largely by smaller Russian airlines.

A Tu-154 belonging to Dagestan Airlines made an emergency landing in Moscow last month after all three of its engines failed, killing two passengers and injuring more than 80 others. The same type of plane was involved in an crash in western Russia last April that killed the president of Poland and 95 others, though that accident has been attributed to bad weather conditions and pilot error.

The plane that exploded on Saturday belonged to Kogalymavia, one of the so-called Babyflots created when the government broke up its Soviet-era aviation behemoth. A passenger said the plane, which was headed for Moscow, apparently caught fire because of an engine malfunction during takeoff.