'Pilot error' blamed for north-west Russia crash

Footage shows the aftermath of the crash

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Officials are investigating the cause of a plane crash in north-western Russia that killed 44 people.

Russian Deputy PM Sergey Ivanov said the crash, near the city of Petrozavodsk, was probably caused by pilot error in poor weather conditions.

The plane had veered away from the airport runway and attempted to land on a motorway but crashed and caught fire.

Eight people including a 10-year-old boy survived the crash with severe injuries.

His 14-year-old sister and a flight attendant were also rescued from the wreckage.

The RusAir Tupolev 134 plane, with 43 passengers and nine crew on board, was flying from the capital, Moscow, to Petrozavodsk, the main city in the Karelia region.

It just missed houses close to the motorway. One source told the Interfax news agency that bodies were strewn across the road.

A mobile phone video of the scene shortly afterwards showed flames from the wreckage soaring into the night sky.

'Power cut'

Mr Ivanov said the crash resembled one in April last year in which Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others were killed as their Tu-154 plane attempted to land near the Russian city of Smolensk.

"I don't want to pre-empt the inquiry... but from the initial external data the pilot's mistake is clear - in bad weather conditions he veered to the right of the runway and in foggy conditions searched for the runway visually until the last minute [and] did not find it," he said.

Map of Russia

But the inter-state air commission, a body which investigates air accidents in the former USSR, was quoted by AFP news agency as saying it was premature to draw conclusions about the cause.

Mr Ivanov reiterated earlier reports that the aircraft hit a power line, causing a power cut that extinguished landing lights on the runway.

Other Russian officials have said back-up systems were then switched on, but too late to stop the aircraft from crashing.

The emergencies ministry has published a full list of the passengers and the names of the survivors. One Dutch and one Swedish national, two Ukrainians and a Russian family of four with dual US citizenship were all among the dead.

Interfax news agency said most of the senior management of Gidropress, a subsidiary of the Russian nuclear export agency Rosatom, were killed, as well as Russian premier league football referee Vladimir Pettay.

The survivors are said to be in critical condition and suffering from burns.

Most have been sent to Moscow for further treatment.

A rescuer told Russian TV he managed to pull four people out of the wreckage.

"I carried out a woman in my arms. Then we brought out a large man and two people from the mid-section. Then everything burst into flames and started exploding. It was impossible to go close," he said.

The flight recorders have been recovered and a team of accident investigators has flown to the scene from Moscow.

Prosecutors say an investigation into possible violations of air transport rules is under way.

RusAir is a privately-owned, Moscow-based airline that specialises in charter flights in western Russia and eastern Europe.

The twin-engined Tu-134 is one of the work-horses of the Russian aviation industry.

Karelia is a sparsely populated region of lakes and forests bordering Finland, and a popular summer destination for Russian tourists.

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