12 killed as plane crashes in Kazakhstan but many survive

ALMATY, Kazakhstan: Twelve people died when a plane carrying 100 passengers and crew crashed shortly after takeoff from Kazakhstan´s largest city on Friday and slammed into a house, but many on board survived.
A video released by the Central Asian country´s emergencies committee showed the 23-year-old plane operated by budget carrier Bek Air torn into pieces with its nose crushed into a collapsed house, as rescue crews worked to pull people from the wreckage.
The aircraft disappeared from the radar minutes after it took off from Almaty airport at 7.05 am (01:05 GMT) on its way to the capital Nur-Sultan with 95 passengers and five crew members, the airport authority said in a statement.
It hit a concrete barrier and then slammed into a two-storey building near the city´s boundary northeast of the airport.
Kazakhstan responded to the crash by grounding the Fokker model, which makes up the whole of the Bek Air fleet, and launched an investigation.
The country´s emergencies committee released a list of 12 people who died, including the captain, revising down earlier tolls provided by officials and media.
The health ministry said 53 people had been injured, nine of them children, adding that 10 adults were in critical condition.
Deputy Prime Minister Roman Sklyar said the tail of the plane had touched the runway twice during takeoff.
“Either this is a pilot error, or there were technical reasons,” Sklyar said at a press conference in Almaty.
“The aircraft split into two parts. Most of the passengers who died were in the front part.”
A purported recording of communications between a dispatcher at Almaty airport and the Bek Air crew that was broadcast by Russian private media REN TV heard the craft´s pilot wish the dispatcher a “good day” before being cleared for take off.
Soon after, the dispatcher appeared to lose touch with the pilot and later warned the next plane to delay its takeoff.
“Astana 671, we do not know where the Fokker 100 is located,” the dispatcher said.
No one was inside the house that the plane crashed into, Khabar state television reported.
– Those responsible ´will be punished´ –
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev pledged to provide families of the victims with compensation and tweeted that those responsible “will be severely punished in accordance with the law.”
Tokayev also said a government commission had been set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding the tragedy.
The interior ministry said it had also launched a criminal investigation into the incident over violations of air transport safety rules.
Tokayev´s office declared Friday a national day of mourning.
The plane was 23 years old but had passed safety checks in May, Kazakh authorities said.
The industry ministry said in a statement that the Fokker 100 model, which is no longer manufactured, would be grounded until the cause of the accident became clear.
Bek Air describes itself on its website as Kazakhstan´s first low-cost airline.
In March 2016, a Bek Air Fokker 100 plane with 116 passengers made an emergency landing in the Kazakh capital after its landing gear failed to deploy but no one was injured.
Swiss regional carrier Helvetic Airways phased out its Dutch-built Fokker-100s earlier this year after 15 years of service.
– ´I´m alive and well´ –
Eight of the victims died at the scene of the disaster, two while receiving medical attention at the airport and two in hospital.
Victims included the captain Marat Muratbayev, as well as Rustam Kaidarov, a 79-year-old retired general who headed an association of former top military officials, and 35-year-old Dana Kruglova, a journalist from the private Informburo news agency.
Informburo said Kruglova “had wanted to celebrate the New Year with her parents in Nur-Sultan and decided to take this flight”.
A well-known entrepreneur, Aslan Nazaraliyev, posted on Facebook that he had survived, indicating his seat on a photo of the crashed aircraft, right next to where it had split into two.
“Thanks to Allah, I am alive and well,” Nazaraliyev wrote.
The air route between Almaty and Nur-Sultan became Kazakhstan´s most popular after the chilly steppe city replaced the southern financial hub as national capital in 1997.
Many Kazakhs regularly commute between the two cities, after government offices and large companies moved north to Nur-Sultan, formerly known as Astana before being renamed in honour of first Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev.–TN

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