MOSCOW–A Russian passenger plane pilot who erupted in a fireball on Moscow’s busiest airport runway killing 41 people said lightning led to an emergency landing.
Researchers were working on Monday to understand the causes of the blaze after the Sukhoi Superjet-100 had to return to Sheremetyevo airport shortly after Sunday night’s take-off.
But pilot Denis Yevdokimov told Russian media that the craft had lost communication and had to switch on the Aeroflot flight to Murmansk’s Arctic City to emergency control mode “because of lightning.”
He did not specify whether the aircraft was directly struck.
“We managed to restore communication on our radio connection via the emergency frequency. But the link was only for a short time, and he kept cutting out… only a few words could be said, “he told the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.
Social media videos showed the plane crash landing and then speeding along the runway with flames flowing out of its fuselage.
Passengers could be seen leaping onto the front of an inflatable slide and running from the blazing plane as black smoke columns blowing into the sky.
Another video shot inside the cabin showed roaring flames outside the window, crying in panic for passengers.
Evdokimov said he believed that the aircraft burst on landing into flames, most likely due to full fuel tanks.
Among the 41 dead were at least two children and nine more were in a hospital, three of whom were seriously injured, authorities said.
The black boxes of the aircraft were found and handed over to investigators, a source reported to news agencies in the Russian emergency services.
–’ White light flash’–
Several of the 78 people on board said that lightning was the cause of the tragedy that occurred at the end of several days of public holidays after Workers ‘ Day on May 1.
“I saw a white light flash,” Dmitry Khlebushkin told the news agency of the state RIA.
Pyotr Egorov, also on board, said to the media: “We just took off when the aircraft was hit by lightning… the landing was very hard, we were almost out of fear.
“The aircraft bounced like a grasshopper on the tarmac and burst into flames on the ground.” At 6:02pm (1502 GMT), the jet — carrying 73 passengers and five crew members — left Sheremetyevo, and the crew issued a distress signal shortly thereafter.
Russia’s national carrier Aeroflot was once known for its poor safety record, but its image has improved in recent years and in more than a decade it has not experienced a fatal accident.
However, since its launch in 2011, the Russian Sukhoi Superjet-100 has been dogged with issues.
In 2012, an Indonesian air show Superjet slammed into a volcano, killing all 45 people on board. Indonesia blamed the pilot mistake for the crash.
In recent years, technical issues with the aircraft have been reported and Russia has struggled to persuade foreign carriers to buy it.
The government offered subsidies to encourage Russian airlines to purchase the Superjet and Aeroflot became their main operator.
A record order of 100 Superjet-100s was announced in September 2018.
The region of Murmansk— from which many of those killed or injured are believed to have come— entered a three-day period of Monday mourning.
It is expected that other Aeroflot flights will be affected in the coming days.
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to the loved ones of the victims and, according to the Kremlin, the investigation “should be as thorough as possible.”
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered the disaster to be investigated by a special committee.