Two pilots dead as Russian plane crashes into motorway

A Russian airliner crashed into a busy motorway and broke up into three pieces after overshooting the runway at an international Moscow airport, leaving its two pilots dead.

The Red Wings airlines Russian-made Tu-204 jet, carrying just 12 passengers and crew, caught fire after crashing through the perimeter fence of Vnukovo airport.

The plane had "12 people on board, including four crew members and eight passengers. Two people have died," the emergency ministry said.

The aircraft was travelling from the Czech Republic, it confirmed.

The health ministry said that the two who died were in pilots' uniforms. The interior ministry said only eight people were on board but confirmed the two fatalities.

The crash took place during high winds and a snowstorm in Moscow, but the cause of the accident was not immediately clear.

State television quoted reports saying that the pilot had been circling Vnukovo and had also looked into the possibility of landing at another airport.

The fire around the busy Kiev Highway reached a maximum of 100 square metres (1,000 square feet) but has now been put out, the emergencies ministry said.

However state television pictures showed the stricken white-and-red liner with both its nose and tail sections separated from the main body.

"The causes are not yet known. The plane broke apart into three pieces as it" burst off the runway, a Vnukovo airport spokeswoman said.

A spokeswoman for the emergencies ministry said: "The Tu-204 overshot the landing strip. As a result, the plane partially fell apart and its right engine caught fire."

Images posted on social media showed the nose of the plane on the highway, with only a tangle of wreckage linking it to the body of the plane which was slumped on the motorway embankment.

President Vladimir Putin has been informed of the accident and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an investigation into its causes.

The emergencies ministry said a total of 204 ministry staff and 12 pieces of equipment were deployed to the scene.

State television said that traffic on the Kiev Highway next to the airport had been halted as a result of the accident. Vnukovo airport has also been closed.

Flights scheduled to land at Vnukovo were being re-routed to Sheremetyevo airport in the north of Moscow.

However the incident risks causing travel chaos as Russians depart the capital in hordes for the country's lengthy New Year holidays.

Aviation disasters remain a scourge across the former Soviet Union due to ageing hardware that often has not been replaced since the fall of the Soviet regime, as well as human error.

The Tu-204 is a modern Russian-made passenger jet. Seventy-two have been made and 51 are in operation, nine of which belong to Red Wings.

Red Wings is a new Russian airline that started operating out of Vnukovo this summer. It serves destinations in Russia and abroad as well as offering charter flights.

The accident came days after all 27 people on board a Kazakh military jet were killed in a crash in the south of the ex-Soviet Central Asian state.

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