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Two air crashes in Russia

Two Russian passenger planes crashed almost simultaneously killing all 89 people on board and airline officials said one of the pilots had sent a hijack alert, raising suspicion of a terrorist attack. The planes disappeared from air traffic controllers’ radar screens within minutes of each other late on Tuesday and one, carrying 46 passengers and crew, sent a hijack alert signal before crashing near the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. Sibir Airlines, operator of Flight 1047 from Moscow to the Black Sea resort of Sochi, said the alert had been triggered when the pilot of the Tu-154 plane pressed a concealed button. President Vladimir Putin, vacationing in Sochi, ordered the FSB security service to investigate the crashes. “According to the latest statement from the head of the military sector of Russia’s main air control centre, a hijack message was indeed received last night from a Sibir Tu-154 aircraft,” Sibir said in a statement. Witnesses on the ground heard an explosion from the second plane, Flight 1303 from Moscow to Volgograd with 43 on board, before it crashed near Tula, 150 km south of Moscow. “Around 11 pm, there was this strange noise in the sky, then this torn-up book fell onto our garage,” a local man told NTV television, holding up the book with its tattered pages. The wreckage of that plane was located quickly and the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry confirmed the deaths of all aboard the plane, informs Daily Times. According to Reuters, Investigators pinned hope on black boxes on Thursday to explain why two Russian planes crashed almost simultaneously, killing at least 89 people and raising fears of terrorism ahead of polls in rebel Chechnya. Relatives of those who died made their way to the two crash sites in southern Russia, where investigators had scoured miles of debris for clues as to why the planes destined for different cities crashed within four minutes of each other. Others stood in disbelief at Moscow's Domodedovo airport, from where the two planes had set off -- one to the Black Sea resort of Sochi and the other to the southern town of Volgograd. The four black boxes, retrieved from two countryside sites where slabs of twisted metal, seats and clothing were scattered for miles, were shipped to Moscow late on Wednesday. "The special laboratories of the Intergovernmental Aviation Committee are equipped with all the necessary technical means," a representative of the committee told Itar-Tass news agency. "(But) everything depends on how well the recordings have been saved." The Chechen rebel leadership denies any connection. But a controversial Chechen election this Sunday has been preceded by renewed rebel attacks in the Chechen capital, and Russia is braced for more terrorism in advance of the vote. In June, Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov promised "big attacks." Terrorism or tragic accident; link, or no link, the Chechnya problem is back on the front burner of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Much more than a minor irritant, it has cost Russia lives and rubles through two wars, and taken a toll on its relations with Europe and the US. In mostly Muslim Chechnya, where tens of thousands have been killed, displaced, and persecuted, this ravaged land is now a base for 70,000 Russian troops. Mr. Putin's approach - war and the installation of Moscow's hand picked leaders - doesn't appear to be effective at either stopping Chechen terrorist attacks, or stabilizing the province, reports the Christian Science Monitor.

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