A Russian Plane Crashed Outside Moscow and No One Knows Why

A picture taken in the Ramensky district on the outskirts of Moscow on February 11 shows an aerial view of Russian emergency vehicles arriving near to the site of an air crash. A Russian passenger plane carrying 71 people crashed near Moscow minutes after taking off. Dmitry Serebryakov/AFP/Getty Images

Conflicting reports and harsh weather conditions are making it harder for Russian authorities to discover how and why a plane crashed outside Moscow over the weekend, killing everyone on board.

The Antonov An-148 operated by Saratov Airlines dropped from radar screens on Sunday, shortly after leaving Moscow's Domodedovo Airport. The plane's wreckage was found later in the day in the city outskirts, with all 71 passengers and crew dead.

But there is still no explanation as to what caused the jet to go down.

"The rescue effort is over," Minister of Emergency Situations Vladimir Puchkov said on Monday, noting that everyone on board can be confirmed dead, the Interfax news agency reported. "My sincere condolences to their families and friends."

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In the 24 hours after the crash, several conflicting reports have emerged as to its cause, with none yet considered the official explanation. The record breaking snowfalls in and around Moscow have complicated the investigation and Puchkov said the area of scattered wreckage was big and the heavy snow resulted in a "complicated ground profile."

Russia's Investigative Committee has said all suspected causes are on the table at this point, though press reports raised and subsequently rejected several alternate versions of events.

Some early reports, based on an Interfax source, suggested that the passenger liner fell because it crashed into a helicopter operated by Russia's state postal service. But the postal service immediately denied this, highlighting that they did not operate any helicopters, but only had two airplanes.

"This situation has no relation to Post of Russia," the company told state news agency Itar-Tass.

Another version of events provided by a source familiar with the investigation, speaking to Russian news site Gazeta on the condition of anonymity, claimed that the jet's pilot reported a technical problem to air traffic control shortly after take off.

The source said that the An-148 pilot sought an emergency landing at Zhukovsky International Airport, only around 15 miles from Domodedovo, where the flight departed.

But this has also been debunked by a representative of the airport. "No request for emergency landing on Zhukovsky came from the An-138," the official told Itar-Tass.

An emergency ministry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, assured Russian business news channel RBC that the jet could not have lost altitude due to engine trouble.

"The engines of the An-148 were working up until collision with the ground and the wreckage of the craft was caused by contact with the ground," the source said. This has played down the odds of there being a bomb on board the plane—an unlikely scenario according to another anonymous source who told RBC that no scatter from explosives have been found at the scene.

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A video posted on Telegram, apparently taken by a security camera mounted on a house near the site of the crash, appeared to show an explosion very close to the ground. But the video is far from conclusive and it is difficult to see whether the explosion occurs before or after impact with the ground.

The plane's operator, Saratov Airlines, have grounded all An-148 flights as the investigation continues. In a press statement, the airline described the pilot Valeriy Gubanov as an experienced airman with more than 5,000 flight hours under his belt, nearly half of which were aboard an An-148 aircraft.

The investigation is ongoing alongside search and recovery efforts.