Passenger Plane Feared To Have Crashed As It Goes Missing

 A passenger plane carrying at least 27 people has disappeared and is feared to have crashed in far eastern Russia. 

The Antonov An-26 plane, operated by Kamchatka Aviation Enterprise, had departed from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky airport and was preparing to land at Palana when it dropped out of radio contact Tuesday afternoon.

Six crew and at least 21 passengers - including a child under 12 - were on board, according to Russian reports. Some put the number of passengers as high as 23, including a second child.

Search operations have been launched, with rescuers saying the plane could have dropped into the Sea of Okhotsk or crashed near a coal mine.

At least two helicopters, one plane, and naval vessels are scouring the area, but have yet to find any sign of the 39-year-old aircraft.

Emergency sources said the plane likely got into trouble around 10 miles from the airport. 

Regional deputy transport minister Anatoly Bannikov, said: 'It was supposed to arrive at the Palana airport at 15:05 (local time).

'The plane did not arrive at the appointed time.

'According to updated data, there were 28 people on board... six crew members and 22 passengers, including one child born in 2014.'

The head of the Palana village administration, Olga Mokhireva, 42, Is reported to have been on board.

The pilot was named as Dmitry Nikiforov, and the co-pilot Alexander Anisimov, 27.

The Kamchatka peninsula is currently beset by wildfires, but visibility was thought to be good along the plane's route - with only low cloud and light winds. 

Dmitry Chernykh, general director of the Vityaz-Aero airline which is involved in the search, said rescue efforts will continue until dark.

Once the sun has set, the helicopters will be recalled and sent out again the following day, he added.  

Russian prime minister Mikhail Mishustin ordered a special commission to find out what had happened to the plane.

A criminal case was also launched into its fate, a normal measure when a plane goes missing or crashes in Russia.

Russia, once notorious for plane accidents, has improved its air traffic safety record in recent years.

But poor aircraft maintenance and lax safety standards still persist, and the country has seen several deadly air accidents in recent years.

The last major air accident 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.

In February 2018, a Saratov Airlines An-148 aircraft crashed near Moscow shortly after take-off, killing all 71 people on board. An investigation later concluded that the accident was caused by human error.

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.

The vanished plane was produced in 1982 and was owned by Kamchatka Aviation Enterprise, said local transport officials.

It has a valid certificate of airworthiness, they said.

The Soviet-era workhorse planes are widely used in remote areas of Russia.

In 2012, an An-28 plane crashed near Palana, killing ten.

The pilots were eventually found guilty, as they had alcohol in their blood.

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