On February 11, 2018, the Saratov Airlines regional An-148 jet crashed shortly after take-off from Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, carrying 65 passengers (including three children) and six cabin crew on board. All of the 71 passengers and crew were found dead. The cause of the crash is still being investigated by authorities.  

The Antonov An-148 twin-engine jet departed from Domodedovo airport, located 42 kilometers south-southeast from the center of Moscow, Russia, at 14:21 local time. Shortly after take-off, communication with the aircraft ceased. The plane was en route to the city of Orsk in the Ural mountains when it crashed near the town of Argunovo, about 80km (50 miles) south-east of Moscow. Witnesses to the crash said the plane was in flames as it fell from the sky, The Guardian writes.  

Russian investigators have ruled out a terrorist attack and have been checking numerous possible versions of the incident, ranging from difficult wintry weather conditions to human error.

The spokeswoman for the Russian Investigative Committee Svetlana Petrenko told reporters on February 12, 2018, that “during the course of the preliminary investigation, all versions will be looked into, including the work to investigate the airline’s activity, the technical condition of the plane and the pilots’ professional level, as well as facts about the required training underwent,” TASS reports.

One of the leading theories being explored by the Russian Investigative Committee is the lack of pre-flight treatment of the aircraft with de-icing fluids which could potentially lead to the “deterioration of the aerodynamic characteristics of the jet”.

Another theory suggests that the crash could have been caused by engine explosion. It was reported earlier that one witness saw the engine burning as the jet was falling. After the plane gained a height of 1,800 meters and reached the speed of 600 km/m, it suddenly “dove” to 1,500 meters, re-gained its previous altitude and immediately crashed.

As for the possibility of pilot error, Saratov airlines spokeswoman Elena Voronova told the media that one of the pilots had more than 5,000 hours of flying time, 2,800 of them in an An-148. The other pilot had 812 hours of experience. Voronova also stated that there had been no concerns over the technical condition of the plane.

Investigators have concluded the aircraft did not break up in mid-air, but rather the explosion occurred when the plane hit the ground.

“It has been established that the aircraft was intact at the time of its descent and there was no combustion. The explosion occurred when the plane hit the ground,” Petrenko said.

The first black box of the aircraft was found in the evening of February 11, 2018. In the morning on February 12, 2018, RIA Novosti reported that presumably the second airborne recorder of the An-148 was found at the crash site. According to their sources, the recovered cockpit voice recorder "is in a satisfactory condition".

The crashed An-148 was built in 2010. Until February 2017, the plane was operated by the Rossiya airlines, then it was sold to Saratov Airlines. Saratov Airlines is a Russian airline that performs domestic and international charter and scheduled flights. The company dates back to 1931. Until February 11, 2018, there were no catastrophes involving the aircraft of this airline.

An-148 is a joint Russian-Ukrainian project built as a replacement for the old soviet Tu-134 to serve on regional routes.Since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the production of this airplane in Russia has been stopped.

The Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC), the supervising body of civil aviation in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), declared in its website that Ukraine will also take part in the crash investigation. State officials have also appointed an authorized representative and advisers to participate in the investigation.