A Dubai airliner with 62 people on board crashed and caught fire early Saturday while landing in strong winds in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, killing all aboard, officials said.
A list published by Russia's Emergencies Ministry showed the Boeing 737-800 operated by FlyDubai was carrying 55 passengers, most of them Russian, and seven crew members, whose nationalities were not immediately known. The Emergencies Ministry said that all had been killed.
It was the budget carrier's first crash since it began operations in 2009. In a statement, FlyDubai confirmed that Flight 981 crashed on landing and there were no survivors. Four children were among those killed, it said.
"Our primary concern is for the families of the passengers and crew who were on board. Everyone at FlyDubai is in deep shock and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those involved," said CEO Ghaith al-Ghaith.
Vasily Golubev, the governor of the Rostov region some 950 kilometres south of Moscow, was quoted by Russian news agencies as telling local journalists that the plane crashed about 250 metres short of the runway.
The cause of the crash was not immediately determined, but Golubev said: "By all appearances, the cause of the air crash was the strongly gusting wind, approaching a hurricane level."
The Russian Emergencies Ministry said the plane clipped the ground with a wing and caught fire.
According to the weather data reported by Russian state television, winds at the moment of the crash at an altitude of 500 metres and higher were around 30 metres per second.
Ian Petchenik, a spokesman for the flight-tracking website Flightradar24, told The Associated Press that the plane missed its approach then entered a holding pattern.
Plane circled airport for 2 hours
According to Flightradar24, the plane circled for about two hours before making another attempt to land. According to its data, the plane began climbing again after a go-around when it suddenly started to fall with vertical speed of up to 21,000 feet/min.
The CCTV footage shows the plane going down in a steep angle and exploding in a giant fireball.
Some Russian aviation experts said the steep descent appeared to indicate that the crash most probably have been caused by a gust of wind.
"It was an uncontrollable fall," said Sergei Kruglikov, a veteran Russian pilot, said on Russian state television. He said that a sudden change in wind speed and direction could have caused the wings to abruptly lose their lifting power.
Another seasoned pilot, Viktor Zabolotsky, said a gust of wind probably caused the airliner to lose speed and crash as the pilot was making an attempt to go round.
President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to the victims' families and top Russian Cabinet officials flew to the crash site to oversee the investigation.
Officials said the plane and bodies of the victims were pulverized by the powerful explosion, but investigators already have found one of the Boeing's flight recorders.
FlyDubai was launched in 2008 by the government of Dubai, the Gulf commercial hub that is part of the seven-state United Arab Emirates federation. Its first flight took to the skies in 2009. It has been flying to Rostov-on-Don since 2013.
It shares a chairman with Dubai's government-backed Emirates, the Middle East's biggest airline, though the two carriers operate independently and maintain separate operations from their bases at Dubai International Airport, the region's busiest airport.
FlyDubai's fleet is dominated by relatively young 737-800 aircraft, like the one that crashed. The airline says it operates more than 1,400 flights a week.
The airline has expanded rapidly in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. Dubai is a popular tourist destination for Russian visitors, who are attracted by its beaches, shopping malls and year-round sunshine. Many Russian expatriates live and work in Dubai, a city where foreigners outnumber locals more than 4-to-1.
FlyDubai has a good safety record. In January 2015, one of its planes was struck on the fuselage by what appeared to small-arms fire shortly before it landed in Baghdad. That flight landed safely with no major injuries reported.
On Oct. 31, a Russian airliner blew up in the air over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 aboard. Investigators determined it was destroyed by a bomb onboard.