A passenger plane en route to Orsk has crashed near the Russian capital with 71 people on board. According to preliminary information, three of the victims were non-Russian nationals.
An Antonov An-148 plane crashed in the outskirts of Moscow on Sunday shortly after taking from the city's Domodedovo airport. Authorities said 71 people were on board the aircraft, which was headed to the city of Orsk in the Ural region, near the border with Kazakhstan.
Russian Transportation Minister Maxim Sololov said "judging by everything, no one has survived this crash."
"Fragments of the An-148 plane and several bodies have been found near the village of Stepanovskoye," the state-owned TASS news agency quoted an Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman as saying.
Three of the victims were non-Russian citizens, according to the officials coordinating the search effort. Russian's Interfax news agency reported that a Swiss national was killed. The twin-engine plane was operated by Russia's domestic Saratov Airlines.
Recovery teams were facing difficult weather conditions, including snow and strong wind, at the site located some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Moscow's Domodedovo airport.
'Signal was lost'
Witnesses in the nearby village of Argunovo saw a burning plane falling from the sky, according to local media. "Radio contact with the plane was lost several minutes after takeoff and the plane went off the radar," said Russia's air transport agency.
"During the last seconds before it crashed the aircraft was falling with up to 22,000 feet per minute (365 kmh)," said flight-tracking service Flightradar24 in a tweet.
A regional official said the black box had been retrieved from the wreckage. However, authorities said it was too early to tell why the aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff.
Investigators said the plane's crew did not report any technical problems before the crash. Experts were now checking if the aircraft was treated with a special defrosting liquid prior to take-off, a procedure normally done at the pilot's discretion, reported the Interfax news agency citing sources from the site.
The Russian-made plane was reportedly seven years old and purchased by Saratov Airlines a year ago from another domestic airline. According to the TASS news agency, it was put out service for two years due to parts shortage, before resuming operations in 2015.
Elena Voronova, a spokeswoman for Saratov Airlines, said there had been no concerns about the technical condition of the plane.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his "profound condolences" to the families of the victims.
"The president has instructed the government to set up a special commission over the plane crash in the Moscow region," Peskov said. "Putin also instructed relevant agencies to organize the search operation."
In the US, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Washington was "deeply saddened by the tragic deaths of those on board Saratov Airlines Flight 703."
The last aviation tragedy to claim scores of Russian lives occurred in December 2016, when a military aircraft carrying 92 passengers crashed in the Black Sea.
dj,ls/sms (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP, Interfax)