Flydubai rejects terrorism link to airliner crash in Russia
An Emirati airline whose plane crashed over southern Russia has played down any suggestion that "terrorism" was involved.
A flydubai passenger jet crashed in southern Russia early Saturday, killing all 62 people on board as it tried to land in bad weather in the city of Rostov-on-Don.
The Boeing 737, which came from Dubai, was making its second attempt to land when it missed the runway, erupting in a huge fireball as it crashed, leaving debris scattered across a wide area.
Flydubai's chief executive Ghaith al-Ghaith on Saturday described any suggestion of the craft being intentionally brought down as "speculation".
He told a news conference in Dubai that the Cypriot pilot and Spanish co-pilot each had nearly 6,000 hours of flying experience.
The five other crew members were from Spain, Russia, the Seychelles, Colombia and Kyrgyzstan, he said.
"The aircraft was checked on January 21," Ghaith added.
Ghaith said officials from the UAE civil aviation authorities and flydubai were going to Russia to help the investigation.
Asked if they would include explosive experts, civil aviation official Ismail al-Hosani told the same news conference: "No, there is nothing we said about a bomb."
"Flydubai regrets to confirm that flight FZ981 crashed on landing and that fatalities have been confirmed as a result of this tragic accident," an airline statement said.
The plane, which had left Dubai at 6.20pm GMT, crashed at 0.50am GMT, the airline said, identifying the passengers as 44 Russian nationals, eight Ukrainians, two Indians and one Uzbek national. Among them were 33 women, 18 men and four children.
'Broke into several pieces'
Investigators said the plane had "skimmed the ground and broke into several pieces," with fragments of the Boeing 737 reportedly scattered up to 1.5 kilometres from the crash site.
A strong wind warning was in place and it was raining hard at the time of the crash. Russian outlet LifeNews said the plane had been circling the area trying to land for two hours because of the poor weather.
President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to the families of the victims after being briefed on the crash by his transport and emergency situations ministers, the Kremlin said.
Other flights were diverted to Krasnodar airport, 300 kilometres south of Rostov-on-Don.
Following the crash, a criminal investigation was opened to determine whether any safety regulations were violated and if negligence played any part in the disaster.
"Different versions for what happened are being worked through, among them a mistake made by the crew of the plane, a technical problem onboard, difficult weather conditions and other factors," Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told Russian news agencies.
Strong safety record
The airline, which is based in the United Arab Emirates, said it had put its "emergency response" procedures into action and that it would be "working closely with all the authorities involved" in a statement posted on its website, which had been changed to a sombre black-and-grey colour scheme.
Boeing said it was aware of the incident.
"We're aware of reports coming out of Russia and our team is currently gathering more details," the plane manufacturer said on Twitter.
A no-frills budget carrier which is a sister firm to Emirates Airlines, flydubai is government-owned and was set up in March 2008.
Based at Dubai airport, the airline has a strong safety record, but one of its planes was hit by a bullet as it landed in Baghdad airport in January 2015, prompting multiple companies to suspend flights to the Iraqi capital. No one was hurt.
The last major aviation tragedy involving Russia was in October last year, when a passenger jet on its way from Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh resort to Saint Petersburg was brought down by a bomb in the Sinai Peninsula.
All 224 people on board, the vast majority of them Russian, were killed.
The Egyptian branch of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.