Russian investigators have ruled out a terrorist attack as the cause of a plane crash which killed 88 people Sunday, saying an engine fault was responsible.
An Aeroflot Nord Boeing 737 passenger jet crashed near Russia's Ural mountains as it readied to land in the city of Prem on a flight from Moscow, killing all 88 people on board, including 21 foreign nationals, early Sunday morning.
Investigators linked the crash to technical failure and a fire in the right engine, saying preliminary results supported the engine failure theory.
Pilot error, however, could not be completely ruled out as an accident. A Perm airport dispatcher told Russian media the doomed plane's pilot had violated regulations.
Transport minister Igor Levitin said late Sunday he had no information to suggest the crash was caused by a terrorist attack.
The Russian airliner reportedly caught fire in the air and lost control. The fallen wreckage burned just metres from a residential community and debris blocked a section of Russia's Trans-Siberian railway.
Aeroflot confirmed there were no survivors. Among the victims were citizens of Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Germany, the United States, France, Switzerland, Latvia, Turkey and Italy. Seven children died in the tragedy.
Among the dead was General Gennady Troshev, a government advisor and a key military figure in Russia's war in Chechnya, the country's transportation ministry was cited as saying by the Interfax news agency.
Irina Andrianova, spokeswoman for the Civil Defence Ministry, said the aircraft lost contact with air traffic control at around 1,800 metres off the ground. The plane exploded into flames upon hitting the ground at 5 a.m. (2300 GMT), she added.
A woman who witnessed the plane go down over her house told Vesti24 television the plane burst into flames in the air.
"It was burning in the sky. It looked like a falling comet," she said.
Aeroflot has worked hard to reform its previous negative image, and has fought ongoing concerns over its ageing fleet and airline safety regulations.
Airline chief Valery Okulov announced he was stripping Aeroflot Nord, a subsidiary of Aeroflot, of the right to use its name from Monday onwards.
The plane's flight recorders have been recovered and will be analyzed. Russia's Echo Moskwy radio said planemaker Boeing joined the investigation efforts in the country's biggest plane catastrophe in two years.