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At Least 12 Killed In Kazakhstan Plane Crash


Let's turn now to the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, where a commercial passenger jet crashed this morning, with 98 passengers and crew onboard. At least 12 people were killed, including the pilot, and many more were injured. The plane was taking off from Almaty International Airport when it went down. NPR's Lucian Kim is with us. He's been following this story from Moscow. Hi, Lucian.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So what do we know at this point?

KIM: Well, the airline involved is called Bek Air, which is billing itself as Kazakhstan's first low-cost carrier. The airline's website shows - has scheduled service to 10 cities in Kazakhstan, which is a huge country in Central Asia - it's about four times the size of Texas. Flight 2100 was flying from Almaty, the country's largest city and commercial capital, to Nur-Sultan, the political capital 600 miles away. There were 93 passengers aboard and five crew members.

One passenger told a local website that the plane took off completely normally, and then, about a minute or two into the flight, there was a strong shaking. The plane continued to gain altitude and then fell. It hit the ground, struck a two-story building, and the fuselage broke apart. According to the airport, there was no fire, which may account for the low death toll. The airport has posted a list of 60 survivors on Facebook. And officials say there are 49 passengers in the hospital, 18 in critical condition.

GREENE: I mean, a terrible crash, but sounds like it could have been much worse if there had been a fire breaking out. What kind of plane was this?

KIM: The plane is a Dutch-built Fokker 100. It's a commuter jet which is no longer being manufactured. The company actually went bankrupt in 1996 because it could not compete with Boeing's 737. Bek Air, the airline, owns seven of these planes, which are still flown by airlines around the world, though no longer in the United States. This particular plane was configured for 100 passengers, so it was almost a full flight.

GREENE: I know it's early, but any talk from officials of the actual cause here?

KIM: Well, the country's deputy prime minister said the cause could be pilot error or technical issues. The country's president has said that there's already a government commission investigating. And he said that, you know, all those who were at fault for this accident will be punished to the full extent of the law, though, of course, at this point, we don't know the cause and whether any laws were violated.

GREENE: I got to ask you, in this part of the world, I mean, when these type of disasters happen - their investigations - do we ever really see real change to infrastructure or anything?

KIM: Well, the short answer is no. Authorities always pledge to get to the bottom of things, but, unfortunately, there's this Soviet tradition of intransparency and a lack of accountability. So we may even find out the reason why the plane crashed, but it's not clear at all that will lead to any changes.

GREENE: That's NPR's Moscow correspondent Lucian Kim reporting on this plane crash this morning. The plane had just taken off from the largest city in Kazakhstan. Lucian, thanks for your reporting.

KIM: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.