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Plane crash puts Russia's airline industry in spotlight - again

A Russian plane carrying only crew slid off the runway and crashed yesterday, the latest in a steady stream of such incidents that has given Russia one of the world's worst air traffic safety records.

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Wreckage from the crash was scattered across the highway and the plane's wings were torn from the fuselage, witnesses said.

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"We saw how the plane skidded off the runway ... The nose, where business class is, broke off and a man fell out," a witness, who gave his name as Alexei, said. "We helped him get into a mini-bus to take him to the hospital."

Another witness described pulling four people from the wreckage when he arrived at the scene before emergency service workers. "We could not get the pilot out of the cockpit but we saw a lot of blood," he told Rossiya-24.

Russian investigators said preliminary findings pointed to pilot error as the cause of the crash.

Russia's aviation authority said it had sent state-owned Tupolev a warning ordering it to fix problems that may have caused a Tu-204 with 70 aboard to go off a Siberian runway on Dec. 21 after suffering engine and brake trouble on landing. It said similar problems had occurred before.

The billionaire owner of Red Wings, Alexander Lebedev, said the airline had already carried out the order on its Tu-204s. Red Wings' website said it operated nine of the aircraft.

Lebedev said the Tu-204 in Saturday's crash was built in 2008 and that the pilot was experienced, with 14,500 hours of flying time. He offered condolences to the victims' families and promised financial compensation and other help.

Russia and other former Soviet republics had some of the world's worst air traffic safety records last year, with a total accident rate almost three times the world average, the International Air Transport Association said.

A passenger jet crashed and burst into flames after takeoff in Siberia in April, killing 31 people, and an airliner slammed into a riverbank in September 2011, wiping out the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team in a crash that killed 44 people.

The Russian-built Tu-204, which is comparable in size to a Boeing 757 or Airbus A321, is a Soviet-era design that was produced in the mid-1990s but is no longer being made. There have been no major accidents reported involving Tu-204s.

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