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Russia Investigates Cause of Twin Plane Crashes

BY Admin  August 25, 2004 at 4:30 PM EDT

Officials have not ruled out terrorism, mechanical failure or pilot error as possible causes of the crashes of the two planes, which left the same Moscow airport within about 45 minutes of one another.

“The experts are working,” Dmitri Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin, told the New York Times. “They are in the field. But it is a little bit early to be clear of the cause of this great tragedy.”

The Russian news service Interfax cited an anonymous official as saying that minutes after the first plane crashed, the second sent a distress signal which indicated a hijacking.

However Peskov urged that there should be no assumptions made at this point.

“It is part of the job of the experts,” he said. “There is no necessity now for speculation.”

Volga AviaExpress Flight 1303 took off from Domodedovo International Airport for Volograd, formerly Stalingrad, with 35 passengers and an eight-member crew. The plane’s wreckage was found in the Tula region, 100 miles south of Moscow.

The second plane, Sibir Airlines Flight 1047, was headed to Sochi, the Black Sea resort city, but disappeared from radar about 500 miles south of Moscow near the border with Ukraine. Thirty-eight passengers and eight crew perished in the crash.

Both planes disappeared from radar at about 11 p.m. and the wreckage was found by early Wednesday morning.

The planes “went through the standard procedure of preparation for flight…(and) the procedures were carried out properly,” according to a statement from Domodedovo airport.

Russian security forces have been on high alert for possible terrorist attacks ahead of upcoming elections in the troubled Chechnya region. Chechens go to the polls this weekend to vote for a new president, following the assassination of Akhmad Kadyrov, the Kremlin-allied leader. Rebels in the breakaway republic of Chechnya have carried out several high-profile terrorist attacks in recent years and have promised to assassinate the winner of the election. Pro-Moscow Alu Alkhanov is expected to win.

A Chechen spokesperson in London denied any involvement in the twin crashes.

Putin was vacationing at Sochi when the crashes occurred. He returned to Moscow Wednesday evening and met with chief prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov.

Putin declared Thursday as a day of mourning.