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12 Killed, Dozens Hurt After Plane Crashes in Kazakhstan

The morning crash took place shortly after takeoff near Almaty, Kazakhstan.

By Vladimir Tretyakov and Daria Litvinova for
12 Killed, Dozens Hurt After Plane Crashes in Kazakhstan

Police stand guard as rescuers assist on the site of a plane crash near Almaty International Airport, outside Almaty, Kazakhstan, Friday, Dec. 27, 2019.

Credit: AP Photo/Vladimir Tretyakov

A plane with 98 people aboard crashed shortly after takeoff early Friday in Kazakhstan, killing at least 12 people, Kazakh officials said. There were 54 people hospitalized with injuries, at least 10 of them in critical condition. Most of the passengers were Kazakh citizens. RFE/RL reported that two Ukrainian nationals, a Chinese, and a Kyrgyz national were on the passenger list but their conditions were unknown.

The cause of the predawn crash was unclear, but authorities were looking at whether pilot error or technical failure were factors, Kazakhstan’s Deputy Prime Minister Roman Sklyar said. Sklyar said the plane’s tail hit the runway twice during takeoff, indicating that it struggled to take off. Other reports indicated that there was heavy fog during takeoff.

The Bek Air aircraft, identified as a 23-year-old Fokker 100, hit a concrete wall and a two-story building after takeoff from Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and former capital. It lost altitude at 7:22 a.m. (0122 GMT), the Almaty International Airport said.

One survivor said the plane started shaking less than two minutes after takeoff. 

“At first the left wing jolted really hard, then the right. The plane continued to gain altitude, shaking quite severely, and then went down,” Aslan Nazaraliyev told The Associated Press by phone. 

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Government officials said the plane underwent de-icing before the flight, but Nazaraliyev recalled that its wings were covered in ice, and passengers who used emergency exits over the wings were slipping and falling. 

The plane, designated Bek Air Flight 2100, was bound for Nur-Sultan, the Kazakh capital formerly known as Astana. 

Local authorities earlier had put the death toll at 15, but the interior ministry later revised the figure downward.

Officials in the Almaty branch of the health ministry couldn’t explain to the AP why the figure was revised, but attributed the confusion to the “agitation” at the site of the crash. 

In a statement on its Facebook page, the airport said there was no fire and a rescue operation began immediately.

Around 1,000 people were working at the snow-covered site of the crash. The weather in Almaty was clear and temperatures just below freezing. 

Video footage showed the front of the broken-up fuselage rammed against a building and the rear of the plane lying in the field next to the airport. 

In Almaty, dozens of people lined up at a local blood bank to donate for the injured. 

The government promised to pay families of the victims around $10,000 each. 

The Fokker 100 is a medium-sized, twin turbofan jet. The Dutch company, Fokker, manufacturing the aircraft went bankrupt in 1996 and production stopped the following year. The specific plane involved was built in 1996 and its most recent flight certificate was issued in May 2019.

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All Bek Air and Fokker 100 flights in Kazakhstan have been suspended pending the investigation of the crash, the country’s authorities said. 

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev ordered an inspection of all airlines and aviation infrastructure in the country. There are currently 18 passenger airlines and four cargo carriers registered in Kazakhstan. 

Kazakhstan’s air safety record is far from spotless. In 2009, all Kazakh airlines — with the exception of the flagship carrier Air Astana — were banned from operating in the European Union because they didn’t meet international safety standards. The ban was lifted in 2016. 

As reported by Vladimir Tretyakov and Daria Litvinova of  the Associated Press.