The pilot of a Russian passenger plane that erupted in a ball of fire on the runway of Moscow’s busiest airport, killing 41 people, said lightning led to the emergency landing.
Investigators were on Monday working to understand the causes of the blaze after the Sukhoi Superjet-100 had to return to Sheremetyevo airport shortly after take-off Sunday evening.
Pilot Denis Yevdokimov told Russian media the aircraft lost communication and needed to switch to emergency control mode “because of lightning” on the Aeroflot flight to the Arctic city of Murmansk.
He did not specify if the plane was struck directly.
“We managed to restore communication through the emergency frequency on our radio connection. But the link was only for a short time and kept cutting out… it was possible to say only a few words,” he told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.
Videos on social media showed the plane crash-landing and then speeding along the runway with flames pouring from its fuselage.
People could be seen leaping onto an inflatable slide at the front and running from the blazing plane as columns of black smoke billowed into the sky.
Another video shot inside the cabin showed roaring flames outside the window and passengers crying out in panic.
Yevdokimov said he believed the plane burst into flames on landing, most likely because of full fuel tanks.
Aside from the dead, nine people were in a hospital, three of them seriously injured, authorities said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said an American citizen had died as he expressed “sincere condolences” to the families of the victims.
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to the victims’ loved ones and said the investigation into the disaster “should be as thorough as possible”.
The jet carrying 73 passengers and five crew members — took off from Sheremetyevo at 6:02 pm (1502 GMT) and the crew issued a distress signal shortly afterwards, officials said.
Flight tracking site Flightradar24 showed the plane circling near the capital before landing.