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Saturday, December 28, 2019

Kazakhstan Plane Crash Kills at Least 12 People

A passenger jet carrying 98 people crashed into a building shortly after takeoff from Almaty International Airport in Kazakhstan on Friday morning, killing at least 12 people and injuring scores more.
The crash of the Bek Air plane was the latest aviation tragedy to befall a former Soviet republic, a region plagued by a still-checkered safety record even as passenger numbers increase with the proliferation of low-cost carriers like Bek, a small Kazakh airline.
Most of the passengers survived, the Kazakh authorities said. There were conflicting reports on the total number of people on board, but the Health Ministry, in a statement, eventually fixed the numbers at 93 passengers and five crew members.

Photographs carried by Kazakh news outlets showed the fuselage of the passenger jet ripped to pieces in the snow amid the rubble of a building. Rescue workers combed the wreckage. In one photo, emergency workers were seen picking through the debris — a red suitcase, a building’s window frame and pieces of the aircraft.
At 7:22 a.m., the plane, a Dutch-made Fokker 100, bound for Nur-Sultan, the Kazakh capital, lost altitude and crashed into a two-story building in a residential area near the airport, officials said.
Eight people were confirmed dead at the scene, two more while being treated at the airport and another two after being taken to a hospital, officials said. Ten people were reported hospitalized in critical condition.
A surviving passenger, Aslan Nazaraliyev, 34, said he was watching the TV show “Billions” in an aisle seat in row 15 when the plane started “rocking like a boat” as it gained altitude after takeoff. Then, he said, it started shaking violently and people on board started to panic, even as the craft continued to climb.
About a minute later, “the flight got out of control,” like a car skidding on ice, Mr. Nazaraliyev, a businessman whose company makes professional cleaning supplies, said in a phone interview.
The plane started to fall at an angle before it made impact some 20 seconds later, he said, slamming into a two-story building, pieces of which rained down to the ground. A man and woman to his right opened the emergency exit and clambered out, slipping and falling on the plane’s icy wing.
Guided by their smartphone flashlights and by people’s moans, Mr. Nazaraliyev and others dragged the injured people away from the plane for fear it would catch fire.
“Where is the ambulance?” a woman can be heard saying on a video from the scene circulated by the Kazakh news media. “People are asking for an ambulance and it’s not arriving.”
In another video, apparently filmed about 20 minutes after the crash, people can be heard moaning and screaming. No emergency workers can be seen.
“We’re taking them out on our own and helping on our own,” a man says.
Among the dead, Interfax reported, were the plane’s 38-year-old captain, Marat Muratbayev; an editor for a Kazakh news outlet, Dana Kruglova, who was 35; and a prominent Kazakh major general, Rustem Kaydarov, 79.
Mr. Nazaraliyev said he was unharmed in the crash. After rescue workers arrived, he got a ride back to the same airport from which he had just departed and then took a cab home.
He said that some survivors asked if they would get their tickets refunded and when they would get their luggage back.
“I said, ‘Guys, you should be happy you’re alive,’” Mr. Nazaraliyev recalled.
Almaty, in southeastern Kazakhstan near the mountainous border with Kyrgyzstan, is the Central Asian country’s biggest city.
The Kazakh authorities have halted flights of the Fokker 100, a twin-engine model built in the 1980s and ’90s, news agencies reported, citing the Ministry of Industry and Infrastructure Development.
The authorities were investigating pilot error or technical problems as possible causes of the crash, Deputy Prime Minister Roman Sklyar said. The plane’s tail twice touched the runway as it was taking off, Mr. Sklyar said, according to Russia’s Tass state news agency.
“We don’t know where the Fokker 100 is,” an air traffic controller told another airliner after the Bek Air flight took off, according to a recording published by Kazakh news outlets.
Bek Air, which was Kazakhstan’s first low-cost airline, operates seven Fokker 100 jets and flies to 12 Kazakh destinations as well as Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia. A brief statement from the airline offered condolences and warned Kazakhs about the risk of fraudsters taking advantage of the tragedy.
The accident is the second major deadly commercial aviation accident in the former Soviet Union this year. An Aeroflot plane made a fiery emergency landing in Moscow in May, killing 41 people. A Saratov Airlines crash outside Moscow last year killed all 71 aboard.
The International Air Transport Association placed the Commonwealth of Independent States, which includes most of the former Soviet Union, worst in the world in its ranking of the incidence of major accidents.
In 2018, the C.I.S. region saw 1.19 aircraft losses per one million departures, compared to zero in Europe, Africa, and North America and 0.32 in the Asia-Pacific region. From 2013 to 2017, the C.I.S. ranked second worst, just ahead of Africa.
Friday’s crash also renewed talk in Russia about the country’s own problems in civil aviation. Mass-market tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda published an interview with an airline safety expert, Valery Shelkovnikov, who said Russian aviation employees shied away from reporting problems.
“People are still afraid of everything,” Mr. Shelkovnikov said. “What if the bosses find out?”
The last major commercial airline crash in Kazakhstan, which has a relatively small airline market, was in 2013, when a SCAT Airlines Canadair CRJ-200 regional jet went down outside Almaty, killing all 21 on board.
Kazakhstan’s president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, declared Saturday a national day of mourning and ordered all entertainment events to be canceled across the country. In an emergency meeting at his residence, Mr. Tokayev called for checks on all airlines and air travel infrastructure in the country and directed the authorities to examine the legality of constructing buildings in the immediate vicinity of the Almaty airport.
“All the guilty will be punished severely in accordance with the law,” Mr. Tokayev said on Twitter.
Production on the Fokker 100 ceased in 1997, after the plane’s Dutch manufacturer went into bankruptcy a year earlier. Though many airlines have retired the aircraft, more than 100 are still active, mostly in Australia and Iran, and a well-maintained airliner can remain in service for more than 30 years; the plane involved in Friday’s crash was nearly 24 years old. The plane is almost 117 feet long and can carry up to 109 passengers.
In July this year, a Fokker 100 flying for Virgin Australia suffered engine failure after taking off from an airport in Western Australia. Crew members tried to restart the left engine after it began to fail as the aircraft was climbing, said the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is investigating the incident.
They could not restart the engine, but were able to fly to their destination 260 miles away. The plane landed safely with no injuries reported. A report on the investigation is expected in the first few months of the new year.
And last month, a Fokker 100 flying for Alliance Airlines lost speed preparing to land at Rockhampton Airport in the Australian state of Queensland, the safety bureau said. The craft ran into turbulence on its final approach and fell below the minimum approach speed.
It landed safely, but the authorities were scrutinizing technical logs and recorded data and interviewing crew members. A report is expected next year.
The Fokker 100 is still sought after for its durability. “The Fokker 100 is a very, very good plane, properly maintained,” said Geoffrey Thomas, editor in chief of “They work in the most harsh environments around the clock.”

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