Kazakhstan observes day of mourning after fatal jet crash

Almaty (Kazakhstan) (AFP) –


Kazakhstan observed a national day of mourning on Saturday after 12 people died when an airliner crashed shortly after takeoff and slammed into a house.

Witnesses spoke of the terrified screams of passengers as the plane came down on the edge of the country's biggest city Almaty on Friday, but many on board managed to walk away without serious injury.

The jet carrying nearly 100 passengers operated by budget carrier Bek Air was torn apart and its nose crushed on impact with a two-storey building just minutes after taking off en route to the capital Nur-Sultan.

Kazakh authorities have launched an investigation to determine the cause of the disaster, and the plane's black boxes have been sent to Moscow for examination, according to deputy industry minister Berik Kamilyev, cited by Russian news agencies.

One survivor told the Tengrinews website of a "terrible noise" just before the Fokker 100 lost altitude, and spoke of the "screams" and tears of passengers.

A young woman also told Russian television network Zvezda of her lucky escape after she and her young children just missed the flight because of school fair.

In Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan's largest flag was at half-mast for the day of mourning while officials made urgent appeals for blood donations to help the dozens of injured survivors.

- 'Tail hit the tarmac on take-off' -

Neighbouring Russia and China were among the countries to join the Vatican and the European Union in expressing condolences to the former Soviet Central Asian republic.

Officials say the Fokker 100 plane's tail hit the tarmac twice on Friday during take-off before it came down and crashed into the concrete building.

"Either this is a pilot error, or there were technical reasons," Deputy Prime Minister Roman Sklyar said at a press conference in Almaty on Friday.

"The aircraft split into two parts. Most of the passengers who died were in the front part."

According to Kazakh emergency authorities, the 12 dead included the pilot. Another 47 passengers out of the 98 people onboard were still in hospital on Saturday. Nine of them were children, officials said.

An investigation has been opened into "violation of security regulations and air transport operating rules". But the interior ministry is still examining possible causes of the accident.

According to the authorities, an inquiry should announce its first conclusions next month. But a dozen other Bek Air aircraft will be grounded in the meantime.

According to the industry ministry, the low-cost airline operates nine Fokker-100 type aircraft, a medium-haul model built by the Dutch aircraft manufacturer Fokker.

In March 2016, a Bek Air Fokker 100 with 116 passengers on board had to make an emergency landing at Nur-Sultan International Airport due to a landing gear problem, without causing injuries.