Horror 19 minutes before plane explosion
After 41 people died after an inferno erupted on a Russian passenger jet as it made an emergency landing at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, all eyes are now on how such a disaster happened just minutes after takeoff.
The Russian Aeroflot plane reported an incident mid-air less than 10 minutes after takeoff in to the two hour flight, creating 19 minutes of terror for the passengers before the aircraft made an emergency landing. The landing resulted in the rear part of the plane bursting into flames and plumes of black smoke filling the runway, killing 41 of the 78 people on board.
While investigations into what exactly happened on-board flight SU 1492 are in the early stages, Aeroflot - the unofficial national airline of Russia - said malfunctions on board the 12-month-old aircraft were detected shortly after takeoff.
"The crew was forced to request an emergency return to the airport," the statement read.
"The engines caught fire after landing at Sheremetyevo where the fire was extinguished."
According to Flightradar24, problems were first encountered on-board the plane eight minutes after the aircraft departed Sheremetyevo Airport at 6.03pm local time on Sunday.
At 6.11pm, the flight's squawk code changed to 7600, indicating a radio communications failure on the aircraft.
By 6.25pm, the squawk changed again to 7700 - the code for an emergency.
The Flightradar24 tracking service showed that the plane circled twice over Moscow before making an emergency landing around 6.30pm, and bursting into flames on the runway.
The Flightradar24 tracking service showed the plane circled twice over Moscow before making an emergency landing after just under 30 minutes in the air.
"Flight SU-1492 took off on schedule at 6.02pm (1.02am AEST)," said a statement from the airport.
"After the takeoff, the crew reported an anomaly and decided to come back to the departure airport. At 6.30pm (1.30am AEST), the aircraft made an emergency landing," it added.
Aeroflot said in a brief statement on Sunday the engines of the Sukhoi SSJ100 were burning after the aircraft landed, but the sequence of events before and after the fire started was not clear.
Some news reports cited sources as saying the plane bounced several times during the landing. Others said the fire started in midair.
Investigators said they were looking into various lines of inquiry, and it was premature to draw any conclusions about the cause of the accident.
No official cause has yet been given for the incident, although some surviving passengers spoke of a lightning strike.
"We took off and then lightning struck the plane," the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily cited one surviving passenger, Pyotr Egorov, as saying.
Flightradar24 said in a statement additional granular data from the flight "initially noted erroneous data contributed by a single receiver, leading to the last moments of the flight not being displayed" on their website. However, other receivers in the area captured the data.
"The plane turned back and there was a hard landing. We were so scared we almost lost consciousness. The plane jumped down the landing strip like a grasshopper and then caught fire on the ground."
Russia's Investigative Committee said it had opened an investigation and was looking into whether the pilots had breached air safety rules.
"Investigators soon will begin interviewing victims, eyewitnesses, airport staff and the airline carrier, as well as other persons responsible for the operation of the aircraft," Investigative Committee spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko said.
Footage shows the plane's undercarriage giving way on impact as its engines catch fire.
Citing an anonymous source, Russian news outlet Interfax said the plane landed with its fuel tanks full because - having lost contact with air traffic controllers - it was too dangerous to dump its fuel tanks over Moscow.
"It attempted an emergency landing but did not succeed the first time, and on the second time the landing gear hit (the ground), then the nose did and it caught fire," the source said.
The emergency landing was so hard debris found its way into the engines, sparking a fire that swiftly engulfed the rear of the fuselage, the same source said.
Russia has long struggled with poor air safety, and crashes are relatively common.
According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation, 326 people died in accidents on Russian-scheduled commercial flights between 2008 and 2017. According to the Washington Post, 61 people died on US flights during the same period.
According to the report, most of Aeroflot's 255 passenger aircraft are from Boeing and Airbus. Russian-made Sukhoi jets make up a fifth of the fleet.
Russian investigators said they were looking into various versions of what occurred and had opened a criminal probe into a possible breach of security rules.