Mourning For Ukraine Crash Dead

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is holding a national day of mourning on Wednesday for 170 people killed in a plane crash.

Russian Tupolev 154 airliner belonging to the Russian airline Pulkovo. All 170 people aboard a Russian airliner were killed when the plane crashed in eastern Ukraine after it ran into severe weather and was struck by lightning, officials said.

The plane was flying from the Russian Black Sea resort of Anapa to St Petersburg when it crashed near Donetsk, Ukraine, killing all on board.

Most of the passengers were thought to be Russians returning from seaside holidays, including about 40 children.

An investigation has begun, with bad weather or a possible fire among the causes under consideration.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that his country would declare Thursday a day of mourning for the victims.

Dutch passengers

The crew of the Pulkovo Airlines flight 612 sent a distress signal at 1537 Moscow time (1137 GMT), and the plane disappeared from radar screens two minutes later, Russian officials said.

It crashed into a field about 45km (30 miles) north of the Ukrainian city of Donetsk.

The plane was carrying 160 passengers, at least 39 of them children, and 10 crew.

There were foreigners on board, "including Dutch people", according to an official at St Petersburg airport, quoted by AFP.

The fuselage of the plane was entirely destroyed and a thick pall of white smoke hung in the air, an AFP journalist reported from the scene.

"It was floating, it circled around, then it went down," an unidentified women told Russian television.. Immediately there was an explosion ... and smoke started rising."

'Severe weather'

There have been conflicting reports of the cause of the crash.

Ukraine's emergencies ministry said the crew had decided to make an emergency landing after a fire broke out.

But Russian officials told the Itar-Tass news agency that the plane had encountered severe weather conditions before it came down.

Russia says terrorism has been ruled out as a possible cause.

St Petersburg-based Pulkovo Airlines is one of Russia's larger carriers.

The crash is the third serious air disaster in the region this year.

In July, at least 124 people died when a Russian Airbus A-310 skidded off a runway and burst into flames in Irkutsk in Siberia.

Source: BBC News