MOSCOW (AP) — A plane that crashed Monday into a snowy field in Siberia, killing 31 people, appears to have been improperly de-iced, but there was no indication that negligence caused the crash, Russia's civil aviation chief said. Investigators said evidence so far suggests a technical failure as the cause.
The twin-engine turboprop belonging to UTair crashed shortly after takeoff from the snowy western Siberian city of Tyumen with 43 people aboard. Twelve people have been hospitalized in serious condition.
The state news agency RIA-Novosti quoted Rosaviatsiya head Alexander Neradko as saying there was evidence "that the treatment of the plane with de-icing agents was not done at the necessary level." However, he also said there was no basis yet "to connect this with the causes of the crash."
The ATR-72-200 took off at 7:40 a.m. from Tyumen, a regional center in Siberia about 1,700 kilometers (1,000 miles) east of Moscow, heading for the oil town of Surgut, about 650 kilometers (400 miles) away.
The plane came down in a field about three kilometers (two miles) away from the Tyumen airport, breaking into three sections upon impact. Part of it was destroyed by a fire that burned at least six people to death, said Sergei Kiselyov, police chief at the Roshchino airport in Tyumen.
Investigators said evidence so far points to a technical failure of the French/Italian-made aircraft. They noted that witnesses reported seeing smoke coming from its engines as the plane came down and said its pilots had tried to return to the airport.
The federal Investigative Committee said while equipment failure appeared to be the most likely cause of the crash, pilot error or mistakes by traffic controllers had not been ruled out.
The plane's flight recorders have been recovered and sent to Moscow for examination. UTair said the two other ATR-72-200s in its fleet would be temporarily taken out of service for inspection.