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Two russian planes crash 90 die

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Two Russian Planes Crash, 90 Die, After Hijack Alarm (Update3)
Aug. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Two Russian passenger airliners from Moscow crashed within minutes of each other in separate incidents, killing all 90 passengers and crew, the greatest number of civilian Russian air deaths in a single day for more than three years. One of the planes sent a hijack alarm before crashing.

A hijack alarm went off on an OAO Sibir Airlines flight to Sochi just moments before the plane vanished from radar screens at about 11 p.m. last night, the airline said on its Web site. The second flight, from Moscow to Volgograd, went down at about the same time, the Emergency Ministry said.

Russia has said it was concerned rebels from Chechnya, a republic in the northern Caucasus, could attempt to carry out terrorist acts before presidential elections in the republic scheduled for Sunday. Russia has 80,000 soldiers deployed in Chechnya fighting the rebel insurgency.

President Vladimir Putin ordered the Federal Security Service, or FSB, to immediately investigate the catastrophe, according to the president's Web site. Putin also appointed Transport Minister Igor Levitin to head a state commission investigating the crashes.

Debris from Sibir's Tupolev TU-154, which was carrying 38 passengers and 8 crew from Moscow to the resort of Sochi on the Black Sea, was discovered in the Rostov region, the Emergency Ministry said. The remains of the second flight, a Volga Avia Express Tupolev TU-134 en route to Volgograd with 35 passengers and 9 crew, were discovered in the Tula region, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Moscow.


``That one of the planes sent a hijack alarm before crashing and that both planes took off from Domodedovo airport in Moscow could point to a terrorist act in the run-up to the presidential elections in Chechnya,'' Moscow-based investment bank Brunswick UBS said in a note to clients.

Federal forces invaded the southern Russian republic of Chechnya in October 1999, when Putin was prime minister, after a group of extremist Muslims invaded Russia, seeking to set up an independent Islamic state. Neither side has published the numbers killed in the war.

The elections will choose a successor to Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated May 9 in Grozny, the Chechen capital, during a ceremony marking the Nazis' defeat in World War II. Putin paid a visit to Chechnya on Sunday to lay flowers at Kadyrov's grave, accompanied by Chechen presidential candidate Alu Alkhanov.

Black Boxes

Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu said flight recorders, often referred to as black boxes, had been recovered from both planes, in remarks broadcast by NTV television. The planes vanished from radar screens at 10:56 p.m. and 10:59 p.m., the ministry said.

The flight to Sochi left Domodedovo at 9:25 p.m. and the Vologograd flight took off at 10:31 p.m., Interfax said, citing the FSB.

Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev is meeting with staff to decide on fresh safety measures, said Anna Tatarinova, a ministry spokeswoman.

The crashes represent Russia's biggest air catastrophe since July 2001, when pilot error caused a Tu-154 to crash as it prepared to land at Irkutsk, Siberia, killing all 145 people on board.

Domodedovo had taken extra security measures last night after a bus stop explosion on Moscow's Kashirskoye Shosse at about 7:40 p.m. Tuesday, in which at least three people were injured, Interfax said, citing an unidentified airport spokesman. The blast probably was the work of hooligans, not terrorists, NTV said, citing prosecutors.

Airline CEO Dies

Yury Baichkin, general director of Volga Avia Express, died in the crash of his airline's plane, said Igor Pedan, spokesman at the company, in a telephone interview from Domodedovo airport. Baichkin was head pilot for the flight, a regular occurrence, Pedan said.

``It was supposed to be a very routine flight,'' Pedan said. ``I'll tell you frankly: at the moment, we have no information'' on the possible cause of the crash.

British Airways Plc last year switched to Domodedovo, from larger Moscow airport Sheremetyovo, saying that would allow it to offer better service to customers.

Terrorist Attacks

Russia suffered its worst terrorist attack in October 2002, when at least 129 hostages died as Russian special forces stormed a theater in Moscow where more than 800 people were being held hostage by Chechen separatists.

At least 39 people died in February this year when a terrorist bomb blast hit the second carriage of a train on the Moscow Metro underground railway. Putin said at the time that the Metro attack may have been an attempt to put pressure on him during Russian presidential elections scheduled for March 14. Putin won re- election with 71 percent of ballots cast in those polls.

Putin's determination to invade and reconquer Chechnya in 1999 had helped to boost his popularity before President Boris Yeltsin resigned in favor of his prime minister on Dec. 31, 1999, naming Putin as acting president and his chosen successor. Putin was elected as president in March 2000.

Both Russians and Chechens have been criticized by groups such as Amnesty International for breaching human rights in the war.

Stocks Decline

Russian stocks declined. The Moscow interbank currency exchange shed 0.4 percent to 517.80 as of 12:01 p.m. local time. OAO Aeroflot, the national airline, fell 29 kopeks, or 1 percent, to 29.65 rubles, its lowest since Aug. 12.

``In a short-term perspective, it won't add anything good to investors' mood,'' said Anton Struchenevskyi, an economist at Troika Dialog brokerage in Moscow, in a telephone interview. ``In a long-term perspective, it's a neutral, because there is always an expectation'' of possible terrorist acts.

Some economists, including Yevgeny Yasin, head of Russia's Higher School of Economics and a former economy minister, have said the country should cut its political risks to win more investment and help sustain economic growth.

Russia's economic growth may slow to 6.3 percent in 2005 from an expected 7.1 percent this year, as the price of oil is expected to decline as soon as next year and capital outflow increases, after the government imposed a $3.4 billion tax bill against OAO Yukos Oil Co., Russia's biggest oil exporter. Russia is the world's biggest oil producer so far this year.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Eduard Gismatullin in Moscow at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Tim Coulter at
Last Updated: August 25, 2004 04:33 EDT

Russia probes jet crashes for terror links
Two planes crash and send hijack alert
Two russian planes crash 90 die

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