Azerbaijan Airlines suspend flights of Ukrainian-built plane

Azerbaijan's state carrier said Monday it has suspended flights by its one remaining Ukrainian-built An-140 twin-engine turboprop plane after the deadly crash of the other one.

All 18 passengers and five crew were killed when the Azerbaijani Airlines An-140 plunged onto the Caspian Sea shore about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, shortly after takeoff late Friday night. The plane was en route to Aktau, a city on Kazakhstan's Caspian Sea coast.

"After the Dec. 23 catastrophe, AZAL has one An-140 still left and it was immediately taken out of service following this tragic event until the reasons for the accident have been established," said a senior manager at the airline, Faramakh Mahmudov.

The plane's black boxes, which were recovered on Sunday, will be sent abroad for analysis, either to Russia or Ukraine, said the head of the investigation into the crash, Ilham Amirov.

All the bodies have been recovered. The passenger list included many foreigners - a Briton, an Australian, a Turk, a Georgian and four citizens of Kazakhstan. Azerbaijan's booming oil sector has brought in many Western firms such as British Petroleum.

Azerbaijan was the first foreign commercial customer for the An-140, designed by Ukraine's Antonov company. It has purchased four such planes, two of which have yet to be delivered.

The An-140, which is capable of carrying about 50 passengers on medium-range flights, has seen a long and difficult development amid severe funding problems.

The deputy director of Azerbaijani Airlines, Ilham Amirov, said Saturday that investigators were looking at a control system failure as the most probable cause of the crash. He later added, however, that it was too early to dismiss other possible causes, including terrorism.

Local television stations reported the wreckage was spread over a space of about two kilometers, a pattern that could indicate an explosion.

A plane of the same make crashed in Iran in December 2002, killing all 44 people on board, the AP reports.


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