A Russian passenger jet crashed in eastern Ukraine yesterday, minutes after sending a distress signal, killing all 170 people on board, officials said.
A thunderstorm with lightning and high winds was raging in the area, said a spokeswoman for the Emergency Situations Ministry in Donetsk.
The Pulkovo Airlines Tu-154 was en route from the Russian Black Sea resort of Anapa to St Petersburg when it disappeared from radar screens while flying over eastern Ukraine, officials said.
"Unfortunately, we believe no one survived," Russian Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andriyanova said.
Russian news agencies said officials ruled out terrorism. A Russian aviation official said the plane might have run into strong turbulence.
The plane's tail section and other debris was found by locals two hours after the plane sent the distress signal, another Donetsk emergency official said.
The plane went down north of Donetsk, 400 miles east of Kiev. There were 45 children aboard, Pulkovo Airlines deputy director Anatoly Simushin said.
The plane was built in 1992, Simushin said. Pulkovo is among Russia's largest airlines.
"The plane most likely was hit by lightning," Andriyanova said.
But Ukraine Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Igor Krol claimed a fire had broken out at 32,800 feet, and crew decided to try an emergency landing.
Officials could not confirm reports the crew sent out four SOS messages.
The incident is the third major crash in the region this year and comes less than two months after 124 people died when an Airbus A-310, of Russian airline S7, skidded off a runway and burst into flames on July 9.