At least 41 people, including one U.S. citizen, were killed Sunday when a Russian plane made a fiery crash landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, according to Russian officials.
The Russian Aeroflot carrier plane departed from Moscow, en route to the northern city of Murmansk. But flight tracking data shows the jet making a loop in Moscow’s skies before turning back to the airport.
In shocking video, the plane can be seen attempting to land at about 7:30 p.m. local time and bouncing off the Moscow tarmac before crashing down and bursting into flames. The plane then skids down the tarmac, with the back half engulfed in flames and billowing thick clouds of black smoke.
Horrified passengers on nearby flights took to social media with harrowing photos and videos of engulfed plane. Once the plane stopped on the tarmac, some passengers could be seen escaping on the plane’s inflatable yellow slides.
It’s not clear exactly what happened. The plane’s pilot, Denis Evdokimov, reportedly said Monday that the plane was struck by lightning soon after takeoff, which knocked out communications with air-traffic control.
“There was a bright flash and a bang,” Evdokimov said. “The fire began after landing, I understand, because of the landing.”
Evodkimov claimed that while the plane’s landing speed was normal, it was weighed down by the fuel load—and that pilots had only “intermittent, weak” communication with air-traffic control via an emergency radio channel.
Authorities said Monday that the aircraft’s black boxes had been recovered and that they are looking into inexperienced pilots, mechanical failure, and weather conditions as potential contributors to the crash.
The Independent reports that the investigation will likely focus on why the pilots chose to land without first flying around to dispense the excess fuel, and how the supposed lightning strike disabled the plane’s electrical systems. Modern planes, this model included, are reportedly designed to survive lightning strikes.
It’s not yet clear if the crash will cause authorities to ground the Sukhoi Superjet S100 model. Airline regulator Rosaviatsia said it was “premature” to come to that conclusion, The Independent reports.
The plane was reportedly carrying 73 passengers and 5 crew members. Elena Markovskaya, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Investigative Committee, said early Monday local time that 41 of those people died, and 37 survived. On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that one American was among the dead.
“We join @USEmbRuPress @USEmbRu in expressing sincere condolences to the families of all who were lost or injured in yesterday’s tragic plane fire at Sheremetyevo airport, including one U.S. citizen,” Pompeo tweeted.
The Investigative Committee told The Associated Press that four other people were injured; the country’s Emergencies Ministry reported that six had been hospitalized.