Russian jet crashes; at least 170 are killed


MOSCOW -- A Russian airliner carrying at least 170 passengers and crew members crashed yesterday in Ukraine on a flight from a Black Sea resort to St. Petersburg, killing all onboard, authorities said.

The Pulkovo Airlines jetliner crashed in the midafternoon during a heavy thunderstorm, apparently while trying to make an emergency landing. The crew had broadcast a distress signal at more than 30,000 feet and another after dropping to 10,000 feet, authorities said.

The death toll included 45 children and teenagers, the Russian news agency Interfax reported, citing a spokesman at Anapa airport, where the flight began. Some reports put the number onboard the Tupolev 154 aircraft at 171.

The cause of the crash was unclear, with authorities in Russia and Ukraine issuing conflicting statements. Some claimed there had been a fire on board. Others said there was no evidence of a fire, and that lightning had probably caused the crash.

Russian Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andriyanova stressed that authorities did not believe the crash was an incident of terrorism.

"A terrorist attack is ruled out," she said, in comments reported by the RIA Novosti news agency. "Ukrainian sources said the plane was caught in a thunderstorm."

Though the plane crashed during a thunderstorm, that did not necessarily explain what triggered the initial distress signals when it was at a high cruising altitude. It was also unclear whether reports of a fire onboard originated with communications from the crew or from witnesses who saw the plane crash.

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