62 killed as FlyDubai plane crashes in southern Russia

Updated March 19, 2016

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A Russian Emergency Situations Ministry employee, left, tries to comfort a relative of the plane crash victims at the Rostov-on-Don airport, about 950 kilometres south of Moscow, Russia Saturday, March 19, 2016.—AP
A Russian Emergency Situations Ministry employee, left, tries to comfort a relative of the plane crash victims at the Rostov-on-Don airport, about 950 kilometres south of Moscow, Russia Saturday, March 19, 2016.—AP

MOSCOW: All 62 people on board Flydubai flight FZ981 were killed when their Boeing 737 plane crashed and burst into flames as it was landing in Rostov-on-Don, in Southern Russia, on Saturday morning, officials said.

The plane flying from Dubai to Rostov-on-Don was making its second attempt to land in bad weather when it missed the runway, erupting in a huge fireball as it crashed.

The local emergencies ministry confirmed that all 55 passengers and seven crew on board were killed.

This handout picture taken and released on March 19, 2016 by Russia's Emergency Ministry shows Russian emergency services personnel working at the crash site at the airfield in Rostov-on-Don airport.—AFP
This handout picture taken and released on March 19, 2016 by Russia's Emergency Ministry shows Russian emergency services personnel working at the crash site at the airfield in Rostov-on-Don airport.—AFP

“A Boeing 737 crashed as it was coming into land. There were 61 people on board. They are all dead,” said a spokesman from the local ministry, quoted by the official TASS news agency.

“Flydubai regrets to confirm that flight FZ981 crashed on landing and that fatalities have been confirmed as a result of this tragic accident,” the airline said on its Facebook page.

Most of the passengers on board Flydubai Flight 981 were Russian, the regional governor said on television.

The Dubai Media Office said that the 55 passengers included 44 Russian nationals, eight Ukrainians, two Indians and one Uzbek.

The accident happened at 0050 GMT, according to an official statement from the ministry.

“The Boeing 737 on the Dubai to Rostov-on-Don route caught fire (after crashing),” said the statement, adding that it took an hour to bring the fire under control.

Ian Petchenik, a spokesman for the flight-tracking website Flightradar24, told The Associated Press that the plane missed approach then entered a holding pattern and tried to land again before contact was lost.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that assistance to the relatives of those killed in a plane crash in southern Russia was the priority, local news agencies cited Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

“The head of the state said that now the main thing is to work with the families and the loved ones of those who had died,” Peskov was quoted as saying.

Emergencies Ministry members search the wreckage at the crash site of Flight number FZ981, a Boeing 737-800 operated by Dubai-based budget carrier Flydubai, at the airport of Rostov-On-Don, Russia, March 19, 2016.—Reuters
Emergencies Ministry members search the wreckage at the crash site of Flight number FZ981, a Boeing 737-800 operated by Dubai-based budget carrier Flydubai, at the airport of Rostov-On-Don, Russia, March 19, 2016.—Reuters

Human error or technical failure

The Investigative Committee of Russia said on Saturday that it is looking into a pilot error or a technical failure as the most likely causes for the plane crash that killed 62 in southern Russia, Russian news agencies reported.

“At present, we are looking into two main theories for the plane crash in Rostov-on-Don: pilot error in connection with deteriorating weather conditions or a technical error,” Interfax news agency cited a representative of the Committee, Oksana Kovrizhnaya, as saying.

Boeing Co. has also offered condolences for those who died aboard the FlyDubai Boeing 737-800 airliner in Russia.

Boeing says it stands ready to provide technical assistance upon the request of government agencies conducting the investigation. It adds it won't be able to answer any questions regarding the flight “in accordance with the international protocol governing aviation accident investigations.”

Strong wind warning

The plane hit the ground a few hundred metres from the runaway as it was making its second attempt to land in poor visibility, Russian news channel LifeNews reported.

Members of the emergency operations centre gather at the airport of Rostov-On-Don, the point of destination of a Flydubai Boeing 737-800 which crashed in Rostov-On-Don, Russia, March 19, 2016.—Reuters
Members of the emergency operations centre gather at the airport of Rostov-On-Don, the point of destination of a Flydubai Boeing 737-800 which crashed in Rostov-On-Don, Russia, March 19, 2016.—Reuters

Footage shown on local media showed a huge fireball erupting from the crash site.

The cause of the crash was not immediately determined but Vasily Golubev, the governor of the Rostov region, said: “By all appearances, the cause of the air crash was the strongly gusting wind, approaching a hurricane level.”

It was raining hard and a strong wind warning had been issued by the local emergencies ministry, TASS 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,” Dubai-based Flydubai said in a statement.

Russian Emergency Ministry employees are seen among the wreckage of a crashed plane at the Rostov-on-Don airport, about 950 kilometers south of Moscow, Russia Saturday, March 19, 2016.—AP
Russian Emergency Ministry employees are seen among the wreckage of a crashed plane at the Rostov-on-Don airport, about 950 kilometers south of Moscow, Russia Saturday, March 19, 2016.—AP

Boeing said they were aware of the incident.

“We're aware of reports coming out of Russia and our team is currently gathering more details,” the plane manufacturer said on Twitter.

On Oct 31, a Russian airliner blew up in the air over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 aboard. Investigators determined it was destroyed by a bomb onboard.

Good safety record

FlyDubai is a budget airline launched in 2008 by the government of Dubai, the Gulf commercial hub that is part of the seven-state United Arab Emirates federation. Its first flight took to the skies in 2009.

It shares a chairman with Dubai's government-backed Emirates, the Middle East's biggest airline, though the two carriers operate independently and maintain separate operations from their bases at Dubai International Airport, the region's busiest airport.

FlyDubai's fleet is dominated by relatively young 737-800 aircraft, the same model as the one that crashed. The airline says it operates more than 1,400 flights a week.

The airline has expanded rapidly in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

Dubai is a popular tourist destination for Russian visitors, who are attracted by its beaches, shopping malls and year-round sunshine. Like other nationalities, many Russian expatriates live and work in Dubai, a city where foreigners outnumber locals more than 4-to-1.

It has been flying to the southern city of Rostov-on-Don since 2013.

FlyDubai has a good safety record. In January 2015, one of its planes was struck on the fuselage by what appeared to small-arms fire shortly before it landed in Baghdad. That flight landed safely with no major injuries reported.