Aeroflot crash: Flight attendant 'grabbed passengers by the collar' to save them

Forty-one of the 78 people, including children, on board an Aeroflot passenger plane that caught fire after it crashlanded at Moscow airport have been killed.

Tatyana Kasatkina said she 'grabbed passengers by the collar' to help them out of the plane.

Tatyana Kasatkina said she 'grabbed passengers by the collar' to help them out of the plane. Source: Supplied

A flight attendant who was working on the Aeroflot flight which burst into flames killing 41 passengers said she was forced to throw passengers out of the burning jet in Russia after it crashed and exploded.

Tatyana Kasatkina said she 'grabbed passengers by the collar' to help them out of the plane.

Ms Kasatkina said, according to Lenta news agency, they had just seconds to escape the plane, and she grabbed passengers by the collar to hurl them down the escape chute.

Tatyana Kasatkina
Tatyana Kasatkina. Source: Twitter

"People starting getting out of their seats and making for the exit while the jet was still travelling at high speed," Ms Kasatkina said.

"They were phoning relatives, screaming that the plane was burning and falling," Lenta quoted her as saying.

She went on to say that as soon as the plane stopped she started evacuating passengers.

"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."

Maxim Moiseyev
Maxim Moiseyev Source: Twitter

According to the Confessions Of A Trolley Dolley website, the 34-year-old did everything she could to get passengers off the plane as quickly as possible.

The website also said that Ms Kasatkina revealed that many passengers trying to escape the flames were slowed down by others stopping to grab their luggage. 

Ms Kasatkina's colleague Maxim Moiseyev died on the plane 'working desperately to save lives', according to a statement by The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA). 

In a tweet, Moskva FM radio said the steward "died while saving passengers' lives" and he "struggled to the end at the rear of the plane, trying to open the emergency exit".

Ms Kasatkina said that the plane was forced to land after being hit by lightning.

"We had taken off, we were in a cloud, there was heavy hail," Ms Kasatkina told the Rossiya 24 news channel.  

"Then it was like a slap, a flash, like electricity. It all happened very fast." 

Lightning caused crash

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. 

But pilot Denis Yevdokimov told Russian media the craft 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. 

There were 78 people on board the plan, according to the Investigative Committee.

A Sukhoi Superjet 100 of Russian airline Aeroflot burning at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, Russia, 05 May 2019.
A Sukhoi Superjet 100 of Russian airline Aeroflot burning at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, Russia, 05 May 2019. Source: AAP

Dramatic footage shared on social media showed the Russian Aeroflot-owned aircraft, flames and black smoke pouring from its fuselage, land at Sheremetyevo international airport.

Passengers could be seen leaping onto an inflatable slide at the front and running from the blazing plane as huge black columns of smoke billowed into the sky.

Mikhail Savchenko, who is on , said on Instagram that he was "alive and safe" after managing to jump out of the plane alongside a video of passengers running away from the burning aircraft. 

Another 11 people were injured, said Dmitry Matveyev, the Moscow region's health minister. Three of them had been hospitalised but they were not in a serious condition, he added.

'Flash of white light'

Several of the 78 people on board said they believed lightning was the cause of the tragedy, which came at the end of several days of public holidays following Workers' Day on May 1. 

"I saw a flash of white light," Dmitry Khlebushkin told the state RIA news agency. 

Pyotr Egorov, also on board, told media: "We had just taken off when the plane was hit by lightning... the landing was very hard, we almost passed out from fear.

"The plane bounced on the tarmac like a grasshopper and burst into flames on the ground."

The Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet-100 carrying 73 passengers and five crew members had just left Sheremetyevo on a domestic route when the crew issued a distress signal, officials said.

"Flight Su-1492 took off on schedule at 6.02pm," said a statement from the airport.

"After the take-off, the crew reported an anomaly and decided to come back to the departure airport. At 6:30 pm, the aircraft made an emergency landing," it added.

The tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda quoted one passenger, Petr Egorov, who said: "We had just taken off and the aircraft was hit by lightning ... The landing was rough, I almost passed out from fear."

"The plane sent out a distress signal after takeoff," a source told Interfax news agency.

"It attempted an emergency landing but did not succeed the first time, and on the second time the landing gear hit [the ground], then the nose did, and it caught fire," the source added.

Interfax, citing an anonymous source, said the plane had landed with its fuel tanks full because, having lost contact with air traffic controllers, it was too dangerous to dump its fuel tanks over Moscow.

According to the Ria Novosti news agency, the plane had been headed to the far northwest city of Murmansk in Russia. It said initial findings suggested an electrical fault might have caused the blaze.

In a statement, Aeroflot said the motors were likely to have caught fire mid-air.

Investigators have opened a criminal probe into a possible breach of security rules.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said Russian Vladimir Putin had offered his condolences to the victims' loved ones.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has also ordered a special committee to investigate the disaster, Ria Novosti agency reported.

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to the victims' loved ones and said the investigation "should be as thorough as possible", according to the Kremlin.

Several flights have been diverted to other Moscow airports or Nizhny Novgorod, some 500 kilometres east of the Russian capital.

The Sukhoi Superjet-100 was the first civilian aircraft developed in Russia's post-Soviet era and at the time of its launch, in 2011, was a source of national pride.

But it struggled to convince buyers from airlines outside Russia, and several foreign airlines that did buy it have since prefered to cut back its use or phase it out completely, citing its reliability.

The Russian government offered subsidies to encourage Russian airlines to buy the Superjet and Russian airline Aeroflot became its main operator. In September 2018, it announced a record order of 100 Superjet-100s.

7 min read
Published 6 May 2019 at 4:04am
Source: AFP, SBS