ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) — 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.
The cause of the crash in the Central Asian nation was unclear, but authorities were looking at whether pilot error or technical failure were factors, Kazakhstan's deputy prime minister Roman Sklyar said.
The Bek Air aircraft hit a concrete fence and a two-story building after takeoff from Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city and former capital. It lost attitude at 7:22 a.m. (0122 GMT), the Almaty International Airport said.
Sklyar said the plane's tail hit the runway twice during takeoff, indicating that it struggled to take off.
One survivor said that 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, one of the passengers who survived the crash, told The Associated Press by phone.
Government officials said the plane underwent deicing before the flight, but Nazaraliyev recalled that the wings of the plane were covered in ice, and passengers who used emergency exits over the wings were slipping and falling down.
The plane was flying to Nur-Sultan, the capital formerly known as Astana.
Local authorities had earlier put the death toll at 15, but the Interior Ministry later revised the figure downward.
Officials in the Almaty branch of the Kazakh Health Ministry couldn't explain why the figure was revised, but attributed the confusion to the “agitation” at the site of the crash, speaking by phone with the AP.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the airport said there was no fire and a rescue operation got underway 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 in front of a local blood bank to donate blood for the injured.
The aircraft was identified as a Fokker-100, a medium-sized, twin-turbofan jet airliner. It was reported to be 23 years old and was most recently certified to operate in May. The company manufacturing the aircraft went bankrupt in 1996 and the production of the Fokker-100 stopped the following year.
All Bek Air and Fokker-100 flights in Kazakhstan were suspended pending the investigation of the crash, the country's authorities said.
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 only in 2016.
Litvinova reported from Moscow.