Contact lost with passenger plane in Russia's Far East

Moscow (AFP) –


Contact has been lost with a passenger plane carrying more than two dozen people in Russia's remote Far Eastern peninsula of Kamchatka, local officials said Tuesday.

The An-26 was flying from Kamchatka's main city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to the coastal town of Palana when it disappeared and failed to land as scheduled, Valentina Glazova, a spokeswoman for the local transport prosecutor's office, told AFP.

She said 29 people were on board, including 23 passengers and six crew. She later confirmed the number of passengers as 22.

"Search and rescue efforts are underway," she said. "All that is known at this time, what has been possible to establish, is that communication with the plane was interrupted and it did not land."

She said the plane had been operated by a local aviation company in Kamchatka, a vast peninsula on Russia's Pacific coast popular with adventure tourists for its abundant wildlife and live volcanoes.

Russian news agencies quoted local officials as saying most of the passengers were from Palana -- population of about 3,000 people -- including four local government officials and the town's head Olga Mokhiryova.

Kamchatka's government published a list of 28 people who were on board the plane, including Mokhiryova and one child born in 2014.

It said that communication with the plane had been lost 9 kilometres (5.5 miles) from Palana's airport.

Citing emergency ministry sources, news agencies reported that a search for the plane was underway with a radius of 15-25 kilometres (9-15 miles) around the airport, with a focus on the Okhotsk Sea.

"There is objective evidence that the plane crashed and fell into the sea," a source told news agency TASS.

The Kamchatka government said the peninsula has five An-26 planes servicing its remote points. The regional transport ministry and the local aviation company said the plane was in good condition and had passed safety checks.

- Lax safety persists -

An-26 planes, which were manufactured from 1969 until 1986 during the Soviet era and are still used throughout the former USSR for civilian and military transport, have been involved in a number of accidents in recent years.

Four people died in March when an An-26 plane used by ex-Soviet Kazakhstan's military crashed while landing at an airport in the country's largest city of Almaty.

In September 2020, 26 people died in ex-Soviet Ukraine when a military An-26 plane crashed in the northeastern city of Kharkiv during a training flight.

An-26s have also been involved in Russian military accidents in recent years.

In March 2018, 39 people died when an An-26 transport plane crashed while landing at an airport in Syria.

A year earlier one soldier was killed when an An-26 crashed during a training flight near the central Russian city of Saratov.

While Russia has improved its air traffic safety record in recent years, poor aircraft maintenance and lax safety standards still persist.

Flying in Russia can also be dangerous in the vast country's isolated regions with difficult weather conditions such as the Arctic and the Far East.

The last major passenger plane accident took place in May 2019, when a Sukhoi Superjet belonging to the flag carrier airline Aeroflot crash-landed and caught fire on the runway of a Moscow airport, killing 41 people.

Russia also frequently experiences non-fatal air incidents that result in re-routed flights and emergency landings, usually stemming from technical issues.

In August 2019, a Ural Airlines flight carrying more than 230 people made a miracle landing in a Moscow corn field after a flock of birds was sucked into the engines shortly after take-off.