Ahad, 17 November 2013

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The Star Online: World Updates

Boeing airliner crashes in Russian city of Kazan, 50 killed


MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Boeing 737 airliner crashed on Sunday in the Russian city of Kazan, killing all 50 people on board and spotlighting the poor safety record of regional airlines that ply internal routes across the world's largest nation.

The son of the president of the oil-rich province of Tatarstan and the regional head of the FSB intelligence service were named among those killed when the plane exploded in a ball of fire upon hitting the runway.

Pictures showed charred wreckage scattered over a wide area, apparently taken after fire fighters had extinguished the fire. Russian television broadcast a blurred video showing a bright flash of light. It also showed a photo of the plane's gaping fuselage with fire fighters in the foreground.

The Tatarstan airlines flight from Moscow had been trying to abort its landing in order to make a second approach when it crashed, killing all 44 passengers and six crew on board, emergency officials said.

Flight U363 took off from Moscow's Domodedovo airport at 6:25 pm (1425 GMT) and crashed just over an hour later, emergency officials said. The leased plane was 23 years old.

There had been no technical problems reported with the plane prior to the flight and regular maintenance and troubleshooting between flights had been conducted, the news agency Interfax cited the airlines' press office as saying.

"The pilots, both born in 1966, had lots of experience," the agency cited a spokeswoman as saying.

According to local reports, the Boeing lost altitude quickly and its fuel tank exploded on impact.

There were high winds and above-zero temperatures over the airport in central Russia. Flights to and from the airport were halted until midday on Monday.

Kazan, which is 800 km (500 miles) east of Moscow, is the capital of the largely-Muslim, oil-rich region of Tatarstan. A new runway was built at the airport ahead of the World Student Games, held in the city earlier this year.

Russia will host the Winter Olympics in the southern city of Sochi early next year.

The son of Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov, Irek, was among those killed in the crash, as was the head of the regional Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Antonov, according to a passenger list whose authenticity was confirmed by the regional government.

There was one foreigner, a British national, among the victims.

Russia and the former Soviet republics combined have one of the world's worst air-traffic safety records, with a total accident rate almost three times the world average in 2011, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the disaster "a frightening tragedy", offering his condolences to the relatives of the victims in a Tweet on Sunday.

State television showed images of a woman scanning a list of passenger names posted outside the airport and crumbling into tears as she apparently recognised one.

Boeing officials had no immediate comment on the circumstances of the crash, but issued a statement.

"Boeing's thoughts are with those affected by the crash of the Tartarstan air company flight. Boeing is prepared to provide technical assistance to the investigating authority as it investigates the accident."


Russia spans nine time zones, from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific across large areas of largely uninhabited land, making efficient air and train links especially important to the country's economy.

In Soviet times, flag carrier Aeroflot had a virtual monopoly of the airline industry, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a multitude of small private companies emerged.

A spokesman for state aviation oversight agency Rosaviatsia said authorities would search for the flight recorders.

"The plane touched the ground and burst into flame," Sergei Izvolsky said. "The cause of the crash as of now is unknown."

The plane had been forced to make an emergency landing a year earlier on November 26 due to problems with "cabin depressurisation" shortly after take off, a law enforcement source told Interfax news agency. No one was hurt.

IATA said last year that global airline safety had improved but that accident rates had risen in Russia and the ex-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States.

In April 2012, at least 31 people were killed when a Russian passenger plane crashed after take-off in Siberia.

In September 2011, a Yak-42 passenger jet carrying members of a major league ice hockey team came down shortly after takeoff and burst into flames near the Russian city of Yaroslavl, killing 44 people.

The Boeing 737 is the world's most popular passenger jet in commercial use. There have been 170 crashes involving this model of aircraft since it came into use.

In the Russian city of Perm in 2008, a Boeing 737 exploded a kilometre above the ground, killing 88 people.

Chile's ex-student leaders march their way to congressional victory


SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Camila Vallejo, who helped spearhead Chile's student uprising in 2011, leapt from the street protest to the ranks of Congress alongside three other former university leaders on Sunday, underscoring a generational shift in local politics.

The 25-year-old communist shot to international fame as one of the most recognizable faces of a student movement seeking free and improved education in a nation fettered by the worst income distribution among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's 34 member states.

Vallejo's victory is key for presidential front-runner Michelle Bachelet's bid to have her Nueva Mayoria coalition gain a stronger foothold in both houses of Congress.

"We're going to celebrate our triumph on the streets of the La Florida (district in Santiago)," Vallejo said on Twitter.

Bachelet, who held Chile's highest office from 2006 to 2010, was the clear winner in the Andean nation's presidential election on Sunday, although she will have to go through a second-round runoff next month to seal her victory.

The massive student protests of 2011 rocked incumbent President Sebastian Pinera's government and helped shape the 2013 electoral campaign, with Bachelet running on a platform to implement a tax reform to finance an education overhaul.

Independent candidates Giorgio Jackson and Gabriel Boric and fellow communist Karol Cariola, former comrade-in-arms in the student movement, also gained seats in Chile's lower house on Sunday.

Their ascension to power, however, likely will not keep protests from spilling onto the streets next year as some in the new generation of student leaders view them as sellouts.

"I wouldn't vote for Giorgio Jackson ... for Camila Vallejo neither," said Melissa Sepulveda, the new head of the Universidad de Chile's student body (FECh), a position once held by Vallejo.

"The possibility for change isn't in Congress," Sepulveda said in the recent radio interview.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Bill Trott)

Fast-moving storm kills five as tornadoes rip U.S. Midwest


WASHINGTON, Illinois (Reuters) - A fast-moving storm system triggered multiple tornadoes on Sunday that killed at least five people and flattened large parts of a town in Illinois as it tore across the Midwest, authorities said.

The storm also forced the Chicago Bears to halt their game against the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL fans at Soldier Field to seek shelter as menacing clouds rolled in. Chicago's two major airports also briefly stopped traffic while the metropolitan area was under a tornado watch.

A National Weather Service survey team confirmed preliminary EF-4 tornado damage in Washington County in southern Illinois, with winds of 166 to 200 miles (267-322 km) per hour.

A small farmhouse there took a direct hit, according to the NWS survey team report. "The homestead was totally destroyed with only the foundation remaining," the report said.

A total of 80 tornado reports were received along with 358 reports of damaging winds and 40 reports of large hail, according to Rich Thompson, a lead forecaster with the weather service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

The storm moved dangerously fast, tracking eastward at 60 miles per hour (97 kph) and Thompson said the bulk of the tornado damage from the storm occurred over a period of about five hours.

"We'll still have a wind damage threat across Pennsylvania and New York into the overnight hours," Thompson said late on Sunday.

An estimated 140,000 were without power in Illinois on Sunday night, along with about 100,000 Michigan residents, due to storm-related outages, according to utility providers.

About 50,000 outages were also reported in Indiana and some 3,000 people were without power in Kentucky.


The town of Washington, Illinois, was hit especially hard by the tornadoes that Thompson said had ripped through Indiana and Kentucky as well as Illinois and a small corner of Ohio.

"It's a sad day in Washington. The devastation is just unbelievable. You just can't imagine. It looks like a war zone in our community," said Washington Mayor Gary Manier.

"It's kind of widespread and went right through our community of 15,000 people," he added, saying hundreds of homes in the town, 145 miles (233 km) southwest of Chicago, had been destroyed.

The state Emergency Management Agency said one person was killed in Washington. Thirty-one people injured by the storm were being treated at St. Francis Medical Center, one of the main hospitals in nearby Peoria, according to hospital spokeswoman Amy Paul. Eight had traumatic injuries.

Two people were killed in Washington County, Illinois, about 200 miles (320 km) south of Peoria, said Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson. The agency estimated that hundreds of homes were damaged and at least 70 levelled across the state.

Washington County coroner Mark Styninger said the two people who died there were elderly siblings. The 80-year-old man and his 78-year-old sister suffered massive trauma when their home was demolished in the storm, Styninger said.

Two people were killed in Massac County, Illinois, on the Kentucky border where a twister devastated several neighbourhoods, emergency officials said.


"It wiped out homes, mobile homes," said Charles Taylor, deputy director of the Emergency Services and Disaster Agency in Massac County. "It downed trees, power lines. We have gas leaks, numerous injuries whether they were in mobile homes, or outdoors, even in the motor vehicles, people have been trapped."

"We have reports of homes being flattened, roofs being torn off," Sara Sparkman, a spokeswoman for the health department of Tazewell County, Illinois, where Washington is located, said in a telephone interview. "We have actual whole neighbourhoods being demolished by the storm."

Sparkman said the storm also had caused damage in Pekin, south of Peoria.

Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said officials believe some people may be trapped in their basements under debris.

The American Red Cross worked with emergency management officials to set up shelters and provide assistance to displaced residents, even as rescue workers searched for more people who might have been caught in the storm's path.

The Washington tornado came out of a fast-moving storm system that originally headed toward Chicago as it threatened a large swath of the Midwest with dangerous winds, thunderstorms, and hail, U.S. weather officials said.

(Additional reporting by Deborah Zabarenko, Jonathan Allen, James Kelleher and Carey Gillam; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Tom Brown and Bill Trott)

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