Investigators are considering technical failure and pilot error as the two most likely causes of Tuesday’s crash of an Antonov An-12 transport plane in Russia’s Far East, a Russian Investigation Committee spokeswoman said.
The aircraft carrying 11 people and 16 metric tons of food disappeared from radars some 300 kilometers from its take-off point in the city of Magadan early on Tuesday, shortly after reporting a fuel leak and fire in an engine.
A search for the remains of the aircraft is under way, involving two Mil Mi-8 transport helicopters, a Beriev Be-200 aircraft and Antonov An-26 transport plane, as well as more than 120 emergency workers. Rain and heavy fog have hampered the search operation.
The Russian Federal Air Transport Agency denied on Tuesday earlier reports that the remains of the aircraft have been discovered.
A criminal case has been opened over violations of transport operation rules, which stipulates a punishment of up to seven years in prison.
The aircraft, which was en route to Chukotka, belonged to the Komsomolsk-on-Amur aircraft building plant but was leased to Khabarovsk-based Avis-Amur air carrier.
The Antonov An-12 entered service in the Soviet Union in 1966. The plane is capable of carrying up to 20 metric tons (44,090 lbs) of cargo and has a pressurized area to accommodate up to 14 passengers between the flight deck and the cargo bay.
Production ceased in 1973 after the Soviet Union produced over 850 civilian and military models, and exported hundreds to friendly states.
The An-12 is now regarded as obsolete and the Russian Air Force is seeking a replacement. In 2009, the United Arab Emirates banned An-12 flights following a series of crashes involving the type, mainly by cargo firms.
A spokesman for the Russian air transport agency said “the issue of banning An-12 flights is not being considered at the moment.”