Russian airport reopens after deadly plane crash

Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

Moscow (AFP) - The airport in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don reopened on Monday, two days after a passenger jet crashed there, killing all 62 on board, as investigators continued their probe into the disaster.

The flydubai Boeing 737, which took off from Dubai, exploded into a fireball on Saturday after missing the runway in southern Russia while making a second attempt to land in heavy wind and rain.

"The airport is now fully functional," an airport representative told AFP. A plane of the emergency ministry made a successful test landing Monday morning, the ministry said.

On Sunday, officials said workers finished clearing the runway of debris, which according to investigators had been scattered up to 1.5 kilometres (one mile) away from the crash site.

Outbound flights resumed at around 0630 GMT on Monday, but incoming flights to the city of one million people were still either cancelled or delayed.

Investigators have launched a criminal probe into whether poor weather, a pilot error or a technical fault were behind the crash, which killed all 55 passengers and seven crew members on board, including nine different nationalities.

The plane's two black boxes were recovered from the crash site, and despite considerable damage to the flight data and voice recorders experts began on Monday retrieving information from them, the Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK) said.

- 'Too early' for conclusions -

It said the analysis of the flight recorders would take time.

Experts from the state-owned budget airline flydubai, a sister firm of Emirates Airlines, and the United Arab Emirates authorities are assisting with the probe, Russian investigators said.

Boeing representatives are also helping with the probe and are providing technical expertise, Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Dvorkovich said Monday at a government meeting to discuss the issue.

Although it is "too early to draw even preliminary conclusions," the Russian government may initiate amendments to regulations and air transport rules in the country if the probe uncovers "technical issues" were to blame, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said.

Russia's aviation agency has said there was no doubt about the safety of the runway or facilities at Rostov-on-Don and brushed off any blame directed at the air traffic controllers.

Strong winds were reported around Rostov at the time the Boeing 737 crashed. The plane had been circling above the airport for two hours.

It was not clear why the plane did not divert, and flight tracking service Flightradar24 said that another passenger plane made three attempts to land in Rostov but ultimately went to another airport shortly before the flydubai plane crashed.

Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov was quoted as saying on state television that airport facilities will be checked but added that the runway in Rostov had been "completely refurbished" last year and that the airport's condition is good.

However, a new airport is being built for the city as part of preparations for Russia to host the World Cup in 2018.

The airline said the Cypriot pilot and Spanish co-pilot each had nearly 6,000 hours of flying experience.

Residents of Rostov-on-Don, which lies about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) south of Moscow, had laid toys and flowers at the airport entrance as they tried to digest the tragedy.

Russian airports have a patchy safety history, with the 2014 fatal private jet crash that killed Christophe de Margerie, the French boss of oil giant Total, on take-off in Moscow, just one of a string of incidents.