PERM, Russia — A Russian passenger plane that caught fire as it fell from the sky today likely suffered engine failure before it crashed, killing all 88 people on board, investigators said.
The right engine of the Boeing 737-500 caught fire as it prepared to land in Perm, they said. The plane came down on the outskirts of the city, hitting the ground just a few hundred yards from small wooden houses and apartment buildings. Officials said no one on the ground was killed.
Flight 821, operated by an Aeroflot subsidiary, carried 82 passengers, including six children under 10, and six crew members, Aeroflot said.
Aeroflot officials said the plane was circling at about 3,600 feet in “difficult weather conditions” — including low cloud cover and rain — when it lost contact with ground dispatchers.
Witnesses said the plane was on fire as it fell.
“I felt an explosion, it threw me off the bed,” a woman in Perm told Vesti-24 television. “My neighbors, other witnesses told me that it was burning in the air, it looked like a comet. It hit the ground opposite the next house, trailing like fireworks in the sky.”
It crashed around 3:15 a.m. on the outskirts of Perm, about 750 miles east of Moscow.
The most likely cause was engine failure, Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the federal prosecutors’ Investigative Committee, said in televised comments.
The head of the Investigative Committee said examination of the site showed the crash “apparently was connected to technical failure and a fire in the right engine,” the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
“There is much evidence for this,” Alexander Bastrykin was quoted as saying.
The plane’s flight recorders have been found, and officials said it will take three to four weeks to analyze them.
The passenger jet fell on a railroad embankment, damaging a section of the track. Parts of the plane’s fuselage lay askew on the rails, along with clothing, life preservers and engine parts.
Emergency workers in camouflage uniforms picked up human remains and placed them in blue bags. Relatives of passengers said they were asked to provide DNA samples to help in the identification.
There was also some relief that the plane had not hit any homes when it crashed.
“I think the pilots did everything to save the city,” Tatyana Sokolova, a Perm resident, said through tears on Vesti-24 television.