Wading through knee-deep snow, hundreds of emergency workers have searched a vast field near Moscow for remains of the 71 victims from the crash of a Russian plane.
Investigators quickly ruled out a terrorist attack in Sunday’s crash of the An-148 regional jet bound for Orsk in the southern Urals.
The disaster has reignited questions, however, about the twin-engine plane that was developed jointly by Russia and Ukraine but phased out of production amid the political crisis between the neighbours.
The model has a spotty safety record, with one previous crash and a string of major incidents in which pilots struggled to land safely.
The carrier, Saratov Airlines, has grounded several other An-148s in its fleet pending the crash investigation.
The plane crashed several minutes after taking off from Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, and all 65 passengers and the crew of six were killed when the aircraft hit the ground and exploded in a giant fireball.
The Investigative Committee, Russia’s top agency for looking into such disasters, said that before the crash, the plane was intact and there had been no fire on board.
The plane’s fuel tanks exploded on impact, gouging a deep crater and scattering wreckage across 30 hectares, according to the Emergencies Ministry.
Pieces of the plane and human remains were buried in deep snow; some debris was found in nearby trees.
Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told a Cabinet meeting that emergency teams found both flight data and cockpit voice recorders, which will be significant to determining the cause of the crash.
The Kremlin said US President Donald Trump had called Putin to express his condolences.
Officials said the search for victims’ remains will take a week.
The passengers ranged in age from five to 79.
Saratov Airlines said the jet had received proper maintenance and passed all the necessary checks before the flight.
The plane was built in 2010 for a different airline that operated it for several years before putting it in storage. Saratov Airlines commissioned it last year.
The plane’s pilot was highly experienced with more that 5000 hours of flight time, Saratov told Ria-Novosti news agency.
Plane fragments were found in the Ramenskoye area about 40km from the airport.
The tragedy was the first commercial passenger jet crash for more than a year in Russia.
Shabby equipment and poor supervision had plagued Russian civil aviation for years after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, but its safety record has improved markedly in recent years.
The last large-scale crash in Russia occurred on December 25, 2016, when a Tu-154 operated by the Russian Defence Ministry on its way to Syria crashed into the Black Sea minutes after takeoff from the southern Russian city of Sochi.
All 92 people on board were killed.
In March 2016, a Boeing 737-800 flown by FlyDubai crashed while landing at Rostov-on-Don, killing all 62 people aboard.
An onboard bomb destroyed a Russian Metrojet airliner soon after taking off from Egypt’s Sharm al-Sheikh resort, killing 244 people in October 2015.