The fatal FlyDubai crash at Rostov-on-Don airport has thrust the quiet Southern Russian city into a global spotlight .
Investigators, including UAE aviation officials, are travelling to the city in an effort to determine why flight FZ981 hit the runway, killing all 62 people aboard.
A constant stream of mourners flocked to near the site where the Boeing 737 crashed in bad weather, while the city of one million struggled with Russia’s latest air tragedy.
People stood crossing themselves in near silence before a makeshift shrine at the airport entrance as they read the names of the 55 passengers and seven crew members – 44 of them Russian – who were killed.
“Everyone is grieving, the worst pain is for the relatives, the irreparable loss, but we are also really in grief,” said Svetlana, a middle-aged shop assistant.
“The whole city is mourning and we will remember and honour the dead. I feel really sorry for the passengers on the flight. I felt that we had to come here.”
Some of the mourners asked why the plane had not been diverted to neighbouring airports given the bad weather conditions.
“The question people are asking is why the pilot didn’t fly to Krasnodar or Mineralnye Vody,” said Yekaterina, a woman in a colourful headscarf.
A young woman named Irina, who lives near the airport, saw the plane crash, shortly before 4am on Saturday.
“It was making a droning noise and flying very low, then five seconds later there was an explosion,” she said. “I could see it was flying off to the side a bit.”
Before the crash, global headlines about the city were focused on the success of its football team, FC Rostov, in the midst of an improbable run in the Russian premier league.
Located 120 kilometres from Ukraine border and more than 1,200km from Moscow, Rostov-on-Don is situated on the banks of the Don, and is 32km from the Sea of Azov, which is linked to the Black Sea by the Straits of Kerch.
Notable residents include Mikhail Sholokhov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who both won the Nobel prize for literature.
The city, which was founded in 1749, is the administrative centre for the Southern Federal District of Russia, one of nine such districts.
According to Russian weather website, pogodaiklimat.ru, Rostov-on-Don experiences cold winters with averages temperatures well below zero. Summer highs reach up to 30°C.
Last December, a Russian diesel-powered submarine bearing the city’s name was reportedly involved in the Syrian civil war.
It is said to have fired cruise missiles at targets near the city of Raqqa, an ISIL stronghold.
Rostov-on-Don has also been named as one of the host cities for the 2018 World Cup of football.
*with reporting from AFP