MOSCOW — Forty-one people were killed on Sunday when a Russian passenger jet made an emergency landing at a Moscow airport, trailing a gigantic plume of flame and black smoke and skidding to a stop on fire.
A Russian law enforcement agency, the Investigative Committee, reported that 40 passengers and one crew member lost their lives. There were 78 people on the plane.
Videos showed passengers who had escaped the aircraft on exit slides running away from the burning plane on the tarmac as travelers inside the Sheremetyevo airport looked on aghast.
“We were witnesses to this horror,” one woman, Alena Osokina, told Russia’s Dozhd television station.
Aeroflot Flight 1492 took off from Moscow bound for Murmansk, a port city in northern Russia. But immediately after takeoff, the pilots radioed a distress call, Interfax reported, and the plane, a Sukhoi SSJ-100, circled back for an emergency landing. The cockpit crew stopped responding by radio after reporting the emergency, Interfax reported.
Flightradar24, which tracks transponders on airplanes, showed the jet looping once in the air before landing. Russian news agencies said the pilots landed on their second attempt.
The plane caught fire after landing. Video showed that the aircraft was not burning on its final approach. It bounced on touchdown and caught fire as it struck the runway a second time. Then the plane skidded along the runway with its nose angled upward, the engines scraping the ground and flames streaking out behind.
Later, flames could be seen spreading on the pavement, suggesting that fuel was leaking and burning. Fire crews sprayed the plane from trucks.
Dozens of people, if not hundreds, witnessed the crash from inside the terminal, where waiting areas and restaurants offer expansive views of the runways.
“Right in front of our eyes, we saw an airplane on fire streaking down the runway,” Ms. Osokina, who was in an airport restaurant, told Dozhd television.
“It was in the grips of flames,” she said. “Flames were devouring it every second,” she said.
Kommersant FM, a radio station, posted a cellphone video taken by a passenger on the airplane as it landed that showed a scene of panic and terror. It showed a burning engine and flames at times obscuring the entire window. As smoke starts to fill the cabin, one woman screams. Another yells, “Help! Help!”
Safety concerns with the Sukhoi Superjet, Russia’s first newly designed post-Soviet passenger plane, emerged soon after its introduction in 2008. Dozens of employees at the Siberia plant were found to have faked their university engineering diplomas.
In 2012, a Superjet crashed into a mountain in Indonesia during a sales demonstration flight carrying 37 aviation executives and journalists, and eight crew members, killing all aboard. An investigation cited pilot error.
In 2016, Russian safety regulators grounded the fleet after discovering metal fatigue, usually a problem associated with older airplanes, in the tail section of a Sukhoi jet. Russian aviation officials have said the plane had no more than the typical teething problems of a new aircraft.
Aeroflot, the Russian national airline, has worked hard to overcome its once-poor safety image. Safety woes shadowed the company in the immediate post-Soviet period. In 1994, for example, a pilot let his 16-year-old son fly an Airbus that promptly crashed, killing all 75 aboard.
Recently, however, the airline has operated one of Europe’s newest fleets of passenger jets.