Search underway after passenger plane disappears in Russian Far East


A wide-ranging search was underway Tuesday, hours after a passenger plane carrying 28 people disappeared in Russia’s remote Far Eastern peninsula of Kamchatka.

The An-26 was flying from Kamchatka’s main city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to the coastal town of Palana when it disappeared at 2:40 pm (0240 GMT), Valentina Glazova, a spokeswoman for the local transport prosecutor’s office, told AFP. 

“Search and rescue efforts are underway,” she said. “All that is known at this time, what has been possible to establish, is that communication with the plane was interrupted and it did not land.” 

She said the plane had been operated by a local aviation company in Kamchatka, a vast peninsula on Russia’s Pacific coast popular with adventure tourists for its abundant wildlife and live volcanoes. 

Russian news agencies quoted local officials as saying most of the passengers were from Palana — which has a population of about 3,000 — including four local government officials and the town’s head Olga Mokhiryova.

‘Difficult’ search conditions

Kamchatka’s government published a list of 28 people who were on board the plane, including Mokhiryova and one child born in 2014. 

Officials said that communication with the plane had been lost nine kilometres (5.5 miles) from Palana’s airport and 10 minutes before its scheduled landing time.

Citing emergency ministry sources, news agencies reported that a search for the plane was underway with a radius of 15-25 kilometres (nine-15 miles) around the airport, with a focus on the Okhotsk Sea.

“There is objective evidence that the plane crashed and fell into the sea,” a source told news agency TASS.

Helicopters and an Il-38 maritime patrol aircraft were searching the area as of 9:00 pm (0900 GMT), news agencies reported. 

A source in the Pacific Fleet Air Force was cited by news agency RIA Novosti as saying that the search was hindered by “difficult” weather conditions. 

The general director of the Kamchatka Aviation Enterprise, Alexei Khrabrov, said the search might have to continue in the morning.

“We will search until it gets dark,” he was cited by TASS as saying.

The Kamchatka government said the peninsula has five An-26 planes servicing remote areas. The regional transport ministry and the local aviation company said the plane — built in 1982 — was in good condition and had passed safety checks. 

Soviet-era planes

An-26 planes, which were manufactured from 1969 until 1986 during the Soviet era and are still used throughout the former USSR for civilian and military transport, have been involved in a number of accidents in recent years.

Most recently four people died in March when an An-26 plane used by ex-Soviet Kazakhstan’s military crashed while landing at an airport in the country’s largest city of Almaty.

Two recent Russian military accidents have also involved An-26 aircraft, resulting in the deaths of 40 people.  

While Russia has improved its air traffic safety record in recent years, poor aircraft maintenance and lax safety standards still persist.

Flying in Russia can also be dangerous in the vast country’s isolated regions with difficult weather conditions such as the Arctic and the Far East.

Palana last saw an aircraft go down when an An-28 passenger plane struck trees during a premature descent in September 2012, killing 10 people.

The last major passenger plane accident in Russia took place in May 2019, when a Sukhoi Superjet belonging to the flag carrier airline Aeroflot crash-landed and caught fire on the runway of a Moscow airport, killing 41 people.