The full horror on board an Aeroflot jet that crashed and exploded at a Moscow airport has been revealed by a hero air stewardess who kicked open an emergency exit and threw people to safety.
Tatyana Kasatkina, 34, told how she grabbed people by their collars and pushed them out of the exit to speed up the evacuation, even as others told how they were slowed down by passengers stopping to grab their luggage.
In total 41 people, including at least two children and one crew member, were killed in the inferno which engulfed the Sukhoi Superjet aircraft after it crash landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on Sunday.
The captain of the flight, Denis Evdokimov, and Miss Kasatkina both claimed the accident was due to lightning which hit the plane shortly after takeoff – despite Aeroflot’s safety record and early reports of an electrical fault.
Meanwhile the identities of some of the victims began emerging, including that of an American man – Jeremy Brooks – who died on board.
It is thought the majority of the dead will be Russians since the flight was domestic – due to fly from Moscow to the Arctic Circle city of Murmansk.
Tatyana Kasatkina, 34, a stewardess on board the Aeroflot plane that crashed and exploded in Moscow, has told how she kicked open the door and pushed passengers out by grabbing their collars in order to speed up the evacuation
At least 41 people died, including two children and one American man, after the jet crash landed and burst into flames at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on Sunday. The plane’s captain said the crash was due to a lightning strike
Passengers scrambled to evacuate the jet after it made an emergency landing in Moscow on Sunday, with survivors complaining that some people stopped to grab their bags, slowing the operation down
Survivors described how people panicked as the plane came in to land trailing thick smoke and flames, rushing to the escape exits at the front of the aircraft
Albina Pilipchuk and Alexey Gultaichuk were named as two of the victims of the crash, along with American Jeremy Brooks
The rear of the aircraft, a Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet, was completely burned away by the fireball. Survivors and crew told how a lightning strike was to blame, despite early reports of an electrical fault
Investigators are now looking into the cause of the crash, which happened shortly after the plane took off from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport headed for Murmansk
Toys and flowers at Murmansk International Airport, where the plane was due to land, left in tribute to the victims – at least two of whom were children
Relatives of those killed in the plane crash are seen at Murmansk Airport grieving for their loved ones on Sunday
Two of the Russian victims have been named as Albina Pilipchuk and Alexey Gultaichuk.
Miss Kasatkina said: ‘When the plane stopped, the evacuation immediately began. The fire was visible.
‘Everyone was shouting that we were on fire, but there was no fire inside the cabin at this moment. I kicked the door out with my leg and pushed out the passengers so as not to slow the evacuation.
‘Just to hurry them up I grabbed each of them by the collar from the back…
Choking back emotion, she added: ‘It was all so quick. The smoke was already black. The last people were crawling to get out…
‘Everyone had jumped from their seats and moved forwards, although the plane was still moving at a good speed.
‘I saw the first woman calling somebody on her phone and saying – ‘we are on fire, we are falling down’…
She said there was a heavy hail storm moment after takeoff from the international airport, before the plane was struck by lightning.
‘There was a flash followed by popping. A bright light flash,’ she said.
‘We took off and got into a cloud and it was hailing. There was such a noise outside (as hail hit the plane).
‘At that moment it was a popping, mainly on the ….left side… Everyone was looking at me looked at me. There was popping and a flash, like an electric flash.
‘The flight deck informed us that we were returning to our home airport.’
But the plane’s internal communications malfunctioned and she could barely hear the pilot when he ordered her to prepare for an emergency landing.
‘I could not understand who was calling, a pilot or a steward,’ she said. ‘That was it, we were flying back home.’
Relatives and friends of victims are seen gathered awaiting information at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow following the crash on Sunday. The plane was a Sukhoi Superjet headed from Russia’s capital to Murmansk
Steward Maxim Moiseev (left and right) was the only crew member killed during the blaze while trying to save people from the rear of the aircraft
The Sukhoi SSJ100 aircraft was Russia’s first civilian aircraft developed in the post-Soviet era and was a great source of national pride when it was launched in 2011
Survivors told how people stopping to collect their bags slowed down the evacuation and trapped people in the burning rear of the aircraft, where the emergency exit could not be used because of the flames
‘We took off at 6.03 pm approximately. Some 10 minutes later we got into this cloud. I saw the fire at the back, all were shouting – we are on fire! – but there was no fire inside the cabin.’
Witnesses insist that people in the back of the cabin were stuck in their seats because passengers further forward grabbed their hand luggage before exiting. Footage shows passengers emerging carrying bags and coats.
Captain Evdokimov echoed Miss Kasatkina, saying that lighting had struck the plane, despite initial reports that an electrical fault lay behind the tragedy.
He said: ‘We lost radio communication because of a lightning strike. We did not have radio communications during landing.
‘We managed to resume it via an emergency frequency but it was abrupt and short. We managed to say a few words and lost it. And we had to connect it again.
‘Air traffic control did help us, they guided us to the runway. The speed was not high, but normal for landing.
‘Everything was according to the book. We gently approached the ground, slowing down. After a complete stop we ordered emergency evacuation.
‘The second pilot was the first to leave the cockpit, then I did. At first I did not glance outside. When I did, I saw a fire engine. The fire began after landing. We were not on fire when in the air.’
Survivor Petr Egorov said: ‘We took off and lightning hit the plane. The aircraft returned and the landing was tough. We all nearly fainted from fear.
‘The plane jumped on the runway like a grasshopper and it caught fire on the ground.’
He revealed sedatives were given to survivors in the aftermath of the crash.
Another survivor Dmitry Khlebnikov said: ‘I thank God – and the stewardesses who saved me.
Thirteen people were killed when a Russian plane (pictured) exploded into flames mid-air as it made an emergency landing
The SSJ-100 aircraft of Aeroflot Airlines on fire during an emergency landing in Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, Russia
The Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft of Airflot Airlines is seen after an emergency landing in Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow
The stricken plane was clearly visible from the main terminals at the airport in the north of Moscow on Sunday evening
‘They were always with us, helping people to climb the slide and get out of the cabin full of smoke… It was dark and incredibly hot inside.’
Aeroflot and Sheremetyevo airport today expressed ‘deep regret’ over the plane fire tragedy.
The authorities in Murmansk – the Arctic city where the plane was heading – have declared three days of mourning over the loss of life.
Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency said it was ‘premature’ to ban the 98-capacity Sukhoi Superjet 100 from flying despite its patchy safety record.
One passenger said: ‘I was sitting in front of the engine, and saw how everything melted.
‘Somehow I managed to reach the exit, inhaling carbon monoxide. The flight attendants said: ‘Come on, quickly, crawl, a little bit left until the exit. As a result, I managed to jump off the plane.’
Aeroflot said the passenger plane was forced to turn back after takeoff because of technical problems.
In a brief statement on Sunday, it said the engines of the Sukhoi SSJ100 were burning after the aircraft landed, but the sequence of events before and after the fire started was not clear.
Some Russian news reports cited sources as saying the plane headed back to the airport after a fire was detected in flight. Others said the plane made a hard landing that could have caused the engines to catch fire.
A spokeswoman for the crash investigation team, Svetlana Petrenko, earlier confirmed the death of two children.
Eleven people were injured, Dmitry Matveyev, the Moscow region’s health minister said earlier in the day.
A flight attendant who attempted to rescue some of the 73 passengers from the blaze was said to be among the dead. He was named locally as Maxim Moiseev. There were five crew members on board.
Interfax agency reported that the plane, a Russian-made Superjet-100, had just taken off from Sheremetyevo airport on a domestic route when the crew issued a distress signal.
‘It attempted an emergency landing but did not succeed the first time, and on the second time the landing gear hit (the ground), then the nose did, and it caught fire,’ a source said.
It reported that the tail was completely burned and said a rescue team was trying to find survivors in that part of the plane.
Ambulances were sent to the scene of the landing and the passengers were evacuated, with the airport now closed for arrivals and departures.
Flightradar24 tracking service showed that it made two circles around Moscow and landed after about 45 minutes
Three flight attendants were believed to be on board the aircraft during the inferno, including Tatiana Kasatkina, Maxim Moiseev, and Ksenia Vogel (pictured)
A British Airways plane could be seen on the tarmac and the airport is closed for arrivals and departures
Flames were seen flaring from the rear of the Russian-built aircraft with 78 on board. It was carrying 73 passengers and five crew members
However, there were local reports of emergency services being refused access to the scene with paramedics held at checkpoints for up to seven minutes.
The airline said the number of victims was ‘being specified’ and that emergency medical care was being provided to the injured.
Footage showed a column of smoke towering over the plane. Other images showed the aircraft on fire as it attempted to land, then distraught passengers leaving by a forward door.
Video captured passengers leaping from the plane onto an inflatable slide from the front of the aircraft and staggering across tarmac and grass of the airport.
The stricken plane was clearly visible from the main terminals at the airport in the north of Moscow and a British Airways plane could be seen on the tarmac alongside it.
A passenger called mikkentosh posted on social media: ‘Guys I am all right, I am alive and in one piece.
‘I managed to jump out. This was the 17.50 Moscow to Murmansk flight. Definitely not everyone managed to escape, huge condolences to families and friends.’
The Sukhoi Superjet-100 was the first civilian aircraft developed in Russia’s post-Soviet era and at the time of its launch, in 2011, was a source of national pride.
But it struggled to convince buyers from airlines outside Russia, and several foreign airlines that did buy it have since prefered to cut back its use or phase it out completely, citing its reliability.
The Russian government offered subsidies to encourage Russian airlines to buy the Superjet and Russian airline Aeroflot became its main operator. In September 2018, it announced a record order of 100 Superjet-100s.
The remains of the Russian-made Superjet-100 at the landing strip of Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow following the fire
An emergency service car is parked at the entrance of Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, Russia, on Sunday evening
Aircraft crew members leave the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. Several flights have been diverted to other Moscow airports or Nizhny Novgorod, some 500 kilometres (310 miles) east of the Russian capital
Ambulances are parked in front of the terminal building of the Sheremetyevo Airport outside Moscow after a Russian-made Superjet-100 on fire attempted an emergency landing
Emergency service cars are parked at the entrance of Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, Russia, on Sunday evening
Criminal investigators are examining the cause of the crash amid reports that an electrical fault had caused the inferno after take-off.
Other local reports suggest the plane had suffered ‘communications problems’ and the fire engulfed the Sukhoi as it returned to Moscow to land. There were also suggests that the plane had been hit by lightning, although there was no official confirmation.
The tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda quoted one passenger, Petr Egorov, who said: ‘We had just taken off and the aircraft was hit by lightning…. The landing was rough, I almost passed out from fear.’
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has also ordered a special committee to investigate the disaster, Ria Novosti agency reported.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said Russian Vladimir Putin had offered his condolences to the victims’ loved ones.
Several flights have been diverted to other Moscow airports or Nizhny Novgorod, some 500 kilometres (310 miles) east of the Russian capital.
The plane had registration number RA-89098. Flightradar24 tracking service showed that it made two circles around Moscow and landed after about 45 minutes.
Russian plane accidents over the last decade
The disastrous emergency landing of a plane engulfed in flames at a Moscow airport on Sunday is the latest in a series of deadly Russian aviation accidents.
Here are some of the country’s worst crashes over the past decade:
– 2018 –
February 11: A twin-engine Antonov 148 operated by Saratov Airlines crashes near Moscow soon after takeoff, killing all 71 on board. The investigation blames errors by the crew.
– 2016 –
December 25: A Syria-bound military plane with 92 people on board crashes into the Black Sea after taking off from Adler, south of Sochi.
March 19: A Boeing 737 run by low-cost Emirates airline FlyDubai crashes as it reportedly tries to make a second attempt to land in bad weather at Rostov-on-Don airport in southern Russia, killing all 62 people on board.
– 2013 –
November 17: A Boeing 737-500 owned by Russian airline Tatarstan crashes while trying to land at Kazan airport, killing 50 passengers and crew.
– 2012 –
April 2: An ATR-72 plane operated by Russian airline Utair crashes during an emergency landing in Siberia, killing 33 people and seriously injuring another 12.
– 2011 –
September 7: A three-engine Yak-42 crashes on take-off at Yaroslav airport (300 kilometres northeast of Moscow), killing all 45 on board including the Lokomotiv ice hockey team. Investigators blamed pilot error.
August 9: An Antonov 12 cargo plane crashes in Russia’s remote eastern Magadan region, killing all 11 people on board. It had reported that one of its four engines was on fire.
June 20: A RusAir Tupolev 134 flying from Moscow crashes trying to land in poor weather at Petrozavodsk in the northwest Karelia region, killing 47 of the 52 people on board.
Investigators say the pilot was drunk.
– 2010 –
December 29: An Antonov military cargo plane crashes during a snowstorm in the Tula region south of Moscow, killing all 12 on board.
August 2: An Antonov 24 run by Katekavia airline crashes on landing near the city of Igarka, eastern Siberia. Only four out of the 15 people on board survive.
April 10: A Tupolev 154 with 96 passengers including Polish President Lech Kaczynski and a top-level delegation from the country crashes as it tries to land in fog near Smolensk, western Russia. There are no survivors.
The Polish delegation were flying to attend a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre of 22,000 Polish officers by Soviet troops on Stalin’s orders.