Eyewitnesses described a terrifying scene aboard the Russian airliner which crash-landed and caught fire at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
Stewardess Tatyana Kasatkina, quoted by Lenta news agency, said they had just seconds to escape the plane, and she grabbed passengers by the collar, to hurl them down the escape chute.
She said there was a big bang from the left-hand side, then the cabin filled with thick black smoke.
Windows were melting as people fled.
The Sukhoi Superjet-100, flown by Aeroflot, made an emergency landing still laden with jet fuel soon after take-off. The blaze killed 41 people, including a flight attendant.
Russian officials say 37 people managed to flee, including four crew members.
Ms Kasatkina said “people starting getting out of their seats and making for the exit while the jet was still travelling at high speed”.
“They were phoning relatives, screaming that the plane was burning and falling,” Lenta quoted her as saying.
As soon as the plane halted she started evacuating passengers. “It all happened really fast, in a matter of seconds… I was pushing passengers out. I grabbed each one by the collar, so that they wouldn’t delay the evacuation.”
‘It was dark, extremely hot’
She said lightning had struck the plane, and the pilots’ main communications had gone down after that.
Russian media report that the flight attendant who died was in the rear section, trying to get an emergency door open as flames engulfed the back half of the plane.
He has been named as Maxim Moiseyev, 22. In a tweet, Moskva FM radio said the steward “died while saving passengers’ lives” and he “struggled to the end at the rear of the plane, trying to open the emergency exit”.
A survivor, Dmitry Khlebushkin, told reporters: “I’m alive only thanks to the stewardesses. The girls stood there in the smoke, it was dark, extremely hot, but they pulled people out and helped them get down the chutes”.
Another survivor, Pyotr Yegorov, told the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda: “we took off and a bolt of lightning hit the plane.
“The crew turned round and there was a hard landing. We were so frightened we almost fainted. The plane bounced on the runway like a grasshopper and caught fire on the ground.”
RIA news agency has broadcast a video clip shot by a passenger as the plane caught fire on the tarmac. A sheet of flame can be seen through the window, and a cloud of sparks, while people scream in panic and a voice – apparently a flight attendant – is heard saying “keep calm”.
Video shot from airport buildings shows passengers fleeing the stricken jet via an inflatable slide at the front and running away from the inferno.