Ukraine is observing a day of mourning to honor the 170 victims of the August 22 air crash in eastern Ukraine, according to RFE/RL. The dead include 39 children.
Investigators are still working to determine what may have brought down the Russian airliner, which was en route to St. Petersburg from the Russian Black Sea resort of Anapa when it crashed about 45 kilometers north of Donetsk. However, officials are focusing on poor weather conditions as the principal factor.
A spokesperson for Russia`s Emergency Situations Ministry said on August 22 that a preliminary investigation indicated that the plane, a Tupolev Tu-154M, had been struck by lightning.
That possibility cannot be ruled out, said Robert Myasnikov, one of the designers of the Tu-154 series. However, Myasnikov, who said he is "upset" by reports that lightning was the cause, insists the plane was well-equipped to cope with storms.
"If there was no serious neglect [on the part of the crew], it was not possible for lightning to strike it," he said. "There is a radiolocation section named `Storm` on the plane; this section allows [pilots] to see a storm in the way of a plane before entering it, and to evade it."
According to planecrashinfo.com, a website that compiles statistics on plane crashes, only 13 commercial airline crashes since 1938 have been attributed to lighting strikes. The last was in 2000, in China.
A spokesperson for Russia`s Transportation Ministry told Interfax that the plane disappeared from radar screens after reporting that it had encountered heavy turbulence at an altitude of about 11,000 meters.
The investigation has been aided by the discovery of "black boxes" of the plane, which should go some way to explaining the course of events.
Ukrainian Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Igor Krol said the plane`s landing gear failed to deploy normally as it attempted to make an emergency landing, and the aircraft crashed "on its belly."