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44 killed in Russian plane crash

Vladimir Radyuhin

Designers of Kudankulam nuclear reactors among dead

— PHOTO: AP

Emergency workers and investigators search the wreckage of a Tu-134 plane, belonging to the RusAir airline, near the city of Petrozavodsk on Tuesday.

MOSCOW: Russian designers of the Kudankulam nuclear reactors died in an aircrash in northern Russia that killed 44 people. Eight people survived the crash.

The Tu-134 airliner on a flight from Moscow crash-landed in thick fog on a highway less than 1 km short of the runway at its destination, Petrozavodsk in Russia's Republic of Karelia, minutes before midnight on Monday. The aircraft veered from the highway towards a nearby forest breaking into several parts and bursting into flames.

The plane was carrying 52 people, nine of whom were crew members. The eight survivors included a nine-year-old boy, his teenage sister and their mother.

Three top officials of Russia's main nuclear reactor design company, Gidropress, were killed in the air crash along with two other senior nuclear engineers. Gidropress CEO and Designer General Sergei Ryzhov, Deputy CEO and Chief Designer Gennady Banyuk and Chief Designer Nikolai Trunov were all involved in designing two VVER-1000 (Version V-412) nuclear reactors for the the first stage of the Kudankulam power project in Tamilnadu. Another four reactors of this type are to be built at Kudankulam under second and third stages of the plant's expansion.

Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said pilot error was the likely cause, which reminded him of the catastrophe of Polish President Lech Kaczynski's plane, Tu-154, near the Russian city of Smolensk in April 2010, in which 96 people died. The Polish aircraft also crashed short of the runway as it tried to land in bad weather. Investigation blamed the crash on pilots who rejected ground control advice to divert to another airport. A traffic controller at the Petrozavodsk airport, Sergei Shmatkov, also said the pilot of the Tu-134 turned down his suggestion to circle again.

The Tu-134's black boxes have been recovered and were in good shape, officials said.

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