Kazakhstan plane crash kills at least 12, dozens in hospital
Pilot error, technical failure being considered by authorities as cause of crash near Almaty
A Bek Air plane with 98 people aboard crashed in Kazakhstan shortly after takeoff early Friday, killing at least 12 people.
Fifty-four people, at least 10 of them in critical condition, have been hospitalized with injuries.
The cause of the crash in the Central Asian nation was unclear, but authorities were looking at two possible scenarios —pilot error and technical failure, according to Roman Skylar, Kazakhstan's deputy prime minister.
Sklyar said the plane's tail hit the runway twice during takeoff, indicating it struggled to take off.
The aircraft hit a concrete fence and a two-storey building after takeoff from Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city and former capital. It lost attitude at 7:22 a.m. local time, the Almaty International Airport said.
One survivor said the plane started shaking less than two minutes after takeoff.
"At first the left wing jolted really hard, then the right. The plane continued to gain altitude, shaking quite severely, and then went down," Aslan Nazaraliyev told The Associated Press by phone.
Government officials said the plane underwent de-icing before the flight, but Nazaraliyev recalled its wings were covered in ice, and passengers who used emergency exits over the wings were slipping and falling.
The plane was flying to Nur-Sultan, the capital formerly known as Astana.
Local authorities had earlier put the death toll at 15, but the Interior Ministry later revised the figure. Officials in the Almaty branch of the Health Ministry couldn't explain to the AP why the figure was revised, but attributed the confusion to the "agitation" at the site of the crash.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the airport said there was no fire and a rescue operation got underway immediately following the crash.
Around 1,000 people were working at the snow-covered site of the crash. The weather in Almaty was clear, with mild below-freezing temperatures common at this time of the year.
Footage showed the front of the broken-up fuselage rammed against a building and the rear of the plane lying in the field next to the airport.
In Almaty, dozens of people lined up in front of a local blood bank to donate blood for the injured.
The government promised to pay families of the victims around $10,000 US each.
The aircraft was identified as a Fokker-100, a medium-sized, twin-turbofan jet airliner. It was reported to be 23 years old and was most recently certified to operate in May. The company manufacturing the aircraft went bankrupt in 1996 and the production of the Fokker-100 stopped the following year.
All Bek Air and Fokker-100 flights in Kazakhstan were suspended pending the investigation of the crash, the country's authorities said.
Kazakhstan's air safety record is far from spotless. In 2009, all Kazakh airlines — with the exception of the flagship carrier Air Astana — were banned from operating in the European Union because they didn't meet international safety standards. The ban was lifted only in 2016.