A Boeing 737-800 operated by Dubai-based budget carrier Flydubai, flying from Dubai to Russia, crashed yesterday at 0340 local time (0040 GMT) on its second attempt to land at Rostov-on-Don airport on Saturday, Russian officials said. All 62 people on board, most of whom were Russian. were killed.
"The aircraft hit the ground and broke into pieces," the Investigative Committee of Russia said in a statement on its website. "There were 55 passengers aboard and seven crew members. They all died." Six of the crew were non-Russians, with LifeNews reporting citizens of Cyprus (captain), Colombia, Kirgizia, Russia, Spain (2) and the Seychelles were among the crew members.
"During the landing approach a Boeing-737 crashed. It had 55 passengers on board. All of them died," a regional spokesman told TASS. "The plane, according to preliminary data, crashed during the second approach," the source told Interfax.
Flydubai said in a statement that there were 44 Russians among the 55 passengers, eight Ukrainians, two Indians and one Uzbek. Four children were among the dead.
According to Reuters, both of the plane's flight recorders have been recovered undamaged, the committee said in a statement. "Different versions of what happened are being looked into, including crew error, a technical failure and bad weather conditions," the committee said. RT adds that according to the spokesman for the southern bureau of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Oksana Kovrizhnaya, there have been put forward two versions of the crash: “Pilot error in deteriorating weather conditions or a technical failure,” she said.
A view shows the crash site of Flight FZ981
Flydubai's CEO Ghaith al-Ghaith told a press conference in the Gulf Arab emirate that it was "too early" to determine the cause of the crash. "We will have information about the circumstances of the incident and the black box in the future, and an investigation is being conducted in cooperation with the Russian authorities and we are waiting to see the results," Ghaith said.
The CEO added that he had no information to indicate that the pilot had issued a distress call and said both the pilot and co-pilot, a Cypriot and a Spaniard respectively, each had over 5,000 hours of flight experience.
As can be seen in the flight map below, the plane was in a mid-air holding pattern for about two hours and the crash occurred more than two hours after the plane, flight number FZ981, was scheduled to land.
— RT (@RT_com) March 19, 2016
The plane came down inside the airport's perimeter, about 250 meters (yards) short of the start of the runway. ITs wing hit the ground on its second attempt to land and burst into flames, the Rostov region's emergency ministry said in a statement.
Dramatic, if grainy, footage from a security camera pointing towards the airport, which were broadcast on Russian television, showed a large explosion at ground level, with flames and sparks leaping high into the air.
According to the Flight Safety Foundation, there was strong wind with a speed of 12 meters per second, with gusts up to 19 meters, but visibility was reasonable. According to RT, flight FZ981 arrived in Rostov-on-Don at about 1:30am, but due to harsh weather conditions, strong side winds gusting at 25-30 meters per second, it spent the next two hours in the air, picking its moment to land. As FZ981 was cruising near Rostov-on-Don (ROV), several other flights opted for alternative airports, but the captain of FZ981 decided to wait for a chance to land at ROV.
The crash is the budget airline's first since it started flying in May 2009. It last suffered a major safety incident when one of its planes was shot at while landing at Baghdad airport on Jan. 27, 2015.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered for assistance to be given to the relatives of those killed.
"The head of state said that now the main thing is to work with the families and the loved ones of those who had died," the Kremlin said in a statement on its website. "The Russian president feels deeply for all those who lost their loved ones in the Boeing 737 crash in Rostov-on-Don,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced on Saturday, stressing that the president has made it a priority to provide all possible assistance to the relatives of the victims.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has launched a probe into the incident with preliminary data indicating that the plane disintegrated and caught fire upon touching the ground. The head of the Emergency Ministry Vladimir Puchkov has held a special meeting, with all the ministry’s efforts, and resources of the local response teams and authorities, directed to the crash site.
There are over 700 response team specialists and about 100 special vehicles operating at the Rostov-on-Don Airport right now. Relatives of the victims are gathering at the airport, Vasily Golubev, governor of Rostov region, told media. He stressed that everyone will get sympathetic and personal attention.
Golubev said most of the Russian passengers were tourists. The governor said the weather conditions at the crash site are better than they were at nighttime, and though it is still raining, the wind has weakened and the well-equipped response teams will continue to work while there is light.
The last recorded conversation of the pilots of the crashed Boeing with Rostov airport dispatch is captured in the following recording.
More dramatic footage from the site of the crash below: