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Russia in mourning after air crash

Relatives grieve for a crew man on the doomed Russian plane
Relatives grieve for a crew man on the doomed Russian plane  

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia is holding a day of mourning for the victims who died in one of its worst aviation disasters.

It is believed 145 people died when a Tupolev 154 plane crashed near the Siberian city of Irkutsk on Wednesday.

Flags were flying at half mast on Thursday and entertainment programmes were withdrawn from television screens.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said: "The whole nation shares your sorrow. This catastrophe has broken the destinies of entire families, taking the lives of those they loved."

Investigators are still sifting the crash site for clues to the cause of the tragedy, as relatives of the begin arriving at the scene.

Alexander Semyonov, whose brother was among the passengers, said: "Now I'm flying to Irkutsk to collect the remains. I'll bury him myself."

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Putin has ordered an investigatory commission to be set up, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who was in charge of last year's inquiry into the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine.

Roza Gavrikova, whose husband died in the plane crash, said: "They are not telling us why the plane crashed, but what they are telling us is that the pilot's last words were: 'I see the landing strip.'"

CNN's Steve Harrigan: Day of mourning announced
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A Russian official says cause of crash that left 143 dead is still unknown. CNN's Steve Harrigan reports (July 4)

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Images from the scene of the crash  

The TU-154, owned by the Vladivostok Avia company, had been flying at an altitude of 2,800 feet (930 metres) when it suddenly made a 180-degree turn and crashed, Russian Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters.

The two flight recorders have been recovered, but CNN's Steve Harrigan said preliminary reports from Shoigu indicated that all three engines on the 15-year-old Tupolev 154 plane had failed at the same time.

He said: "It is so hard to comprehend how it could happen. It is a weird accident."

"First impressions suggest it fell flat, because debris is not widely spread. We will look around to see if it got caught on anything in the trees."

Deputy Transport Minister Karl Ruppel told Reuters that triple engine failure was "practically impossible."

Recent Russian air crashes  

Ruppel also dismissed media speculation that there may have been an explosion on board, saying the wreckage appeared to be too compact to indicate a blast.

Instead, Harrigan said investigators would be looking at the possibilities that the plane had run out of fuel, that the crash had been the result of pilot error, or that there had been a problem with the engines.

He added that three minutes before the plane crashed, the pilot had said "everything is OK."

The Tu-154, which can carry up to 180 passengers, is the workhorse for Russia's many airlines, carrying about half of all Russian air passengers.

It was designed as the Soviet counterpart to the Boeing 727 and the European-made Trident, but with the added ability to operate from short, rough runways. About 1,000 were produced.

The plane has been involved in 28 air disasters since it was created in 1968. Most have happened after the break-up of Aeroflot into hundreds of so-called baby-Aeroflots flying domestic routes following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 1994, a Tu-154 jet crashed on takeoff from Irkutsk, killing 124 people, after it was reportedly overloaded.

• Aviation Safety Network: Tupelov 154 incidents
• Tupolev 154
• Vladivostok Avia (in Russian)

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