The Russian Investigative Committee said 41 people died in the incident, including one crew member. It was not immediately clear what caused the plane to make an emergency landing and catch fire. Officials launched a criminal investigation.
The regional jet took off from Sheremetyevo for the northwestern city of Murmansk shortly after 6 p.m. and turned around minutes later. Footage showed the plane bouncing along the runway as it landed.
Aeroflot said the plane was forced to return to the airport because of a “technical reason” and that its engines caught fire as it touched down.
A towering column of black smoke rose above Sheremetyevo, Russia’s busiest airport.
“I survived thanks to the stewardesses,” passenger Dmitry Khlebushkin told Russian news reporters at the airport. He said the crew rushed to evacuate passengers as flames engulfed the fuselage.
Russia has long struggled with poor air safety, and crashes are relatively common. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization, 326 people died in accidents on Russian-scheduled commercial flights between 2008 and 2017. Sixty-one people died on U.S. flights during the same period.
Recent years have seen a surge in the number of Russian air travelers and substantial investment by carriers in new aircraft. Poorly trained crews and alcohol consumption by airport staff have been blamed for fatal accidents in the past.
Russia, the largest country by land mass in the world, offers the potential for soaring profits for carriers able to break into the market. But standards and regulations are still somewhat slipshod, and several new Russian airlines have gone bankrupt in the past decade.
Russian jet crashes have not been limited to commercial carriers. A Defense Ministry plane heading for a Russian air base in Syria in 2016 plunged into the Black Sea, killing all 92 people on board
, including most of the country’s Red Army Choir.
Aeroflot, whose logo is still a hammer and sickle, was once synonymous with Soviet-era incompetence. But the company, part of the SkyTeam alliance, has become a darling of investors in recent years, and its fleet is one of the youngest in the world.
Most of Aeroflot’s 255 passenger aircraft are from Boeing and Airbus. Russian-made Sukhoi jets make up a fifth of the fleet. The Sukhoi Superjet has represented the greatest hope for growth for Russia’s long-moribund commercial-airplane-manufacturing industry, but it has struggled to attract foreign buyers.
The plane that caught fire Sunday was a Sukhoi SSJ-100 regional jet. Air-traffic logs show Flight SU1492 took off from Sheremetyevo at 6:03 p.m. local time. Eight minutes later, the flight’s squawk code changed to 7600, indicating a radio failure. At 6:25 p.m., the squawk changed to 7700 — an emergency.
Fritz reported from Washington.