An Aeroflot jet heading to Murmansk, Russia burst into flames after making an emergency landing at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow on Sunday. Passengers and crew who were on board at the time of the crash said the plane was struck by lightning, just before it crashed onto the runway.
Of the 78 people on board, 41 were killed in the accident. The crash is still being investigated and no officials have commented on whether or not the Superjet-100 aircraft was struck by lightning. The black box, a record of flight data and conversations within the contact, remained intact and is being handled by the investigation team.
Russia’s national carrier reported that the aircraft landed in Moscow for “technical reasons”, though passengers and crew insist that lightning played a role in the accident.
The pilot at the time of the crash, Denis Yevdokimov, spoke with Russian media after the accident. He said that lightning disrupted his communication with air traffic controllers, leading him to engage in the emergency manual mode.
Dmitry Khlebushkin, a passenger, told reporters: “I’m alive only thanks to the stewardesses. The girls stood there in the smoke, it was dark, extremely hot, but they pulled people out and helped them get down the chutes”.
Modern planes are built to withstand lightning strikes as many commercial flights often experience lightning strikes during flight. These strikes rarely lead to crashes, however.
Upon landing, the plane was evacuated in under a minute. A stewardess on board the flight, Tatyana Kasatkina, told reporters from Russian media Lenta that people were trying to evacuate before the plane had even landed.
“It all happened really fast, in a matter of seconds… I was pushing passengers out. I grabbed each one by the collar, so that they wouldn’t delay the evacuation,” said Kasatkina.
Russian President Vladimir Putin shared his condolences with the families of the victims and the government of Murmansk, the region where the plane was headed, has announced a three-day period of mourning.