MOSCOW // A passenger airliner careered off the runway at Russia's third-busiest airport and partly onto a highway while landing yesterday, broke into pieces and caught fire, killing at least four people.
Officials said there were eight people aboard the Tu-204 belonging to Russian airline Red Wings that was flying back from the Czech Republic without passengers to its home at Vnukovo Airport.
Emergency officials said in a televised news conference that four people were killed and another four severely injured when the plane rolled off the runway into a snowy field and partly onto an adjacent highway, then disintegrated. No collisions with vehicles on the major, multilane highway were reported.
The plane's cockpit area was sheared off from the fuselage and the tail section partly torn away.
The crash occurred amid snow and winds gusting up to 15 metres a second (30 mph), but other details were not immediately known. A spokesman for Russia's top investigative agency, Vladimir Markin, said initial indications were that pilot error was the cause.
The state news agency RIA Novosti cited an unidentified official at the Russian Aviation Agency as saying another Red Wings Tu-204 had gone off the runway at the international airport in Novosibirsk in Siberia on December 20. The agency said that incident, in which no one was injured, was due to the failure of the plane's engines to go into reverse upon landing and that its brake system malfunctioned.
On Friday, the Aviation Agency sent a directive to the Tupolev company's president calling for it to take urgent preventive measures.
The plane that crashed Saturday took off from Pardubice airport in the Czech Republic. Jan Anderlik, the director of the company that operates the airport, told Czech public television that the plane underwent a regular technical check before takeoff and no problems were discovered.
Prior to Saturday's crash, there had been no fatal accidents reported for Tu-204s, which entered commercial service in 1995. The plane is a twin-engine midrange jet with a capacity of about 210 passengers.
The Red Wings airline is one of the holdings of Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev, who also owns the British newspapers The Independent and the Evening Standard.
Vnukovo, on the southern outskirts of Moscow, is one of the Russian capital's three international airports.
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, and Karel Janicek in Prague, Czech Republic, contributed to this story.