The wreckage from the plane was found on a cliffside along the coast and in the sea near Palana.
As radio contact with the plane was lost some nine kilometres (five miles) from its destination, the Russian rescue services urgently dispatched two helicopters and a special aircraft to search the area along the route of the missing flight. The Federal Air Transport Agency, Rosaviatsiya, said that weather conditions at the time of the plane’s landing were difficult due to thick fog and clouds that covered the mountains, raising doubt that the An-26 could have arrived safely.
A report that a weak radio signal was coming from the coast was also soon disproved by the authorities, ending the last glimmer of hope that the passengers could still be found alive.
According to the airline, the plane was carrying 28 people — 22 passengers, including one child, and six crew members. Three officials from the Palana village administration and its head, Olga Makhireva, were revealed to have been on board.
To locate the crash site before dark, the search operation was joined by Russia's Pacific Fleet on water and a rescue team from the Emergencies Ministry on the ground. Additionally, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin gave instructions to form a special commission under the leadership of the transport ministry to investigate the circumstances of the plane’s disappearance.
Around two hours after the initial reports of lost contact, the emergency services announced that the potential crash site had been found. Several ships were dispatched to check the information. An Il-38 maritime patrol aircraft of the Pacific Fleet scouted the area, noting the difficult weather conditions which obstructed the search operation.
Finally, at 09:06 GMT, the debris of the missing An-26 was found.
"According to the information of the operational groups, at 12:06 Moscow time, the site of the An-26 accident was discovered … with which radio communication was lost. Place of detection: about 4-5 kilometers [2-3 miles] from the runway on the side of the coastline", Rosaviatsiya said.
The emergency services concluded that, most likely, all people on board the plane were dead.
However, neither the bodies nor the black box have yet been found. The search operation will resume on Wednesday with the participation of divers. Russian Transport Minister Vitaly Saveliev and the head of Rosaviatsiya, Alexander Neradko, set out to Kamchatka to join the search.
Immediately after information about the crash appeared, the transport department of Russia's Investigative Committee opened a criminal case over possible violation of safety rules. The versions of what caused the accident appeared as new details about the location of the debris emerged.
The deputy head of the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski Airline, the plane's operator, told Sputnik that aircraft might have crashed into the coastal rock due to strong side wind, explaining why parts of it coud be found both in the water and on the ground.
"It practically crashed into the coastal rock from the sea side. [The rock] is not on the plane's landing trajectory", he said, noting that the bulk of the wreckage was located at the foot of the coastal rock, while part of the bow was in the sea.
The information about the exact locations of the debris was confirmed by the Pacific Fleet.
The investigation is currently considering several official versions of the An-26 crash, including unfavourable weather conditions, technical malfunction of the aircraft, and piloting error. It has also launched a review of the airline, which, in turn, has maintained that the pilot and the crew were professional, while the aircraft was in perfect working condition after being freshly renovated.
MOURNING WITH RUSSIA
The international community has reacted quickly to the news of the tragic event, sending words of comfort to the Russian people and the families of the victims.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic sent a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin, expressing his condolences to the families. "In these tragic moments for your country, our thoughts are with the Russian people," Vucic said.
He was soon joined by Acting Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, US Ambassador in Moscow John Sullivan, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Egyptian Foreign Ministry, among others.