Russian Airliner Crashes, Casualties Unclear

A Russian airliner carrying at least 49 people crashed and caught fire Wednesday while trying to land near an oil port along the Arctic coast, and there were conflicting reports about the number of casualties.

Russia's Transport Ministry said everyone on board was killed, but a local official with the Emergency Situations Ministry said at least 17 people survived, with some using satellite phones to call authorities.

The An-24 turboprop aircraft (search) was carrying 45 passengers and four crew members when it crashed near Varandei in the Nenets autonomous region (search) along Russia's Arctic coast, said Russia Transport Ministry spokesman Timur Khikmatov. All on board were killed, Khikmatov said.

But a spokesman for the local branch of Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry said in a telephone interview that between 17 and 23 people survived the crash, and some of them contacted the authorities on a satellite phone.

Several rescue aircraft landed in the area to help the survivors, the spokesman said on condition of anonymity.

The plane departed from the city of Ufa (search) in southern Siberia and made several stopovers on its way to Varandei (search), about 1,110 miles northeast of Moscow, Khikmatov said.

The two-engine aircraft banked and crashed while making a final approach to landing, said Nail Gabdulin, spokesman for Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry.

The An-24 is a Soviet-designed turboprop airliner built in the 1960s for short and medium-length trips. Hundreds are still in service with airlines in Russia and other former Soviet republics.

Russia's Lukoil (search) oil company is currently upgrading the Varandei port on the Arctic Pechora Sea.

Lukoil and U.S. oil company ConocoPhillips have established a joint venture, Rusco, to develop the oil-rich fields in the Timan-Pechora region with the intention of ultimately shipping crude to the United States from Varandei.

A spokesman for Lukoil had no immediate comment.