The plane crash in northwestern Russia that killed 44 people was probably caused by a combination of pilot error and bad weather, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Tuesday.
The RusAir jet, which took off from Moscow at 22:30 local time (18:30 GMT) on Monday was due to arrive in Petrozavodsk, the capital of Russia's northwestern republic of Karelia, at 00:04 on Tuesday (20:04 GMT Monday), but crash landed on a highway one kilometer (0.6 miles) away from Petrozavodsk airport, which was shrouded in fog. The aircraft broke up and burst into flames on impact.
Eight of the 52 people on board survived and were taken to local hospitals.
"I do not want to forestall the investigation and so on, but the first surface data show that pilot error amid bad weather is obviously to blame," Ivanov, who oversees transport issues in the government, said at the Le Bourget airshow outside Paris.
The pilot was "looking for the runway till the last moment, but didn't see [it], and then this happened," the minister said, adding that the pilot was "landing right of the runway."
"Unfortunately, this is reminiscent of the recent catastrophe of the Polish plane near Smolensk," he added, referring to the April 2010 crash of a Polish air force plane that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of Polish dignitaries.
Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said earlier in the day that various possible causes for the accident were being studied, including human error. A criminal case into the crash has been launched, he said.
A failure of the airport's lighting system was initially named among possible reasons of the crash. But Ivanov said the runway lights only switched off when the plane hit power lines while landing.
"It was discovered later that it [the power line] was broken, obviously, by the [plane's] undercarriage," he said. "This means it [the plane] broke the cable while landing."
A spokesman for Russian air transport regulator Rosaviatsia also said earlier in the day that the airport's infrastructure, including the lighting system, had been operating normally until the moment when the aircraft hit the electric lines.
According to the spokesman, the plane began to descend earlier than planned for unknown reasons, deviated from the runway and hit trees, and then the power lines.
The head of the federal air transport agency said the plane had hit a 15-meter-tall pine tree before it crashed, adding that there was no fire or explosion on board the aircraft before the crash.
The aircraft's flight data recorders have been recovered, and investigators in Karelia have taken custody of the voice recordings between the air traffic controllers and the aircraft's crew.
"The voice recordings of the air traffic control service at Petrozavodsk airport with the aircraft's flight crew have been obtained, and information requested about weather conditions. Investigators have also taken documentation from Domodedovo airport [from where the aircraft took off] and fuel samples," regional investigators said.