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Russian jet crash kills all 170 on board

Official: Fire reported on plane before it disappeared from radar

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This photo shows the wreckage of the Tu-154 that crashed in Ukraine.

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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- A Russian commercial jet carrying 170 people -- many of them children -- crashed in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, killing all on board, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry reported.

The Tupolev Tu-154, belonging to Pulkovo Airlines, went down shortly after the pilot reported a fire on board and heavy turbulence, the Ukrainian Emergency Situations Ministry said.

At least 30 bodies have been pulled from the wreckage, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Donetsk in a hard-to-reach area, the ministry said. (Watch what is left of plane after crash -- 1:49)

Forty-five passengers were children, Pulkovo Airlines said, and 10 victims were crew members.

Flight 612 was en route from the Black Sea resort town of Anapa to St. Petersburg.

"At 3:37 p.m. Moscow time (11:37 GMT) the plane sent an SOS signal, and at 3:39 it disappeared from radar screens," emergency ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova told Interfax.

Witnesses reported there was no explosion before the crash, she said.

The plane went down near Ukraine's border with Russia, and Ukrainian and Russian emergency personnel responded.

The emergency ministry said the plane's landing gear would not work when the pilot tried to make an emergency landing about 20 minutes into the flight.

Ten minutes later, the pilot sent a distress signal, reporting a fire on board and heavy turbulence, said Ukrainian emergency ministry spokesman Ihor Krol.

The plane was on fire when the pilot made a belly landing, officials said.

The ministry said investigators are looking into the possibility that the plane was hit by lightning.

Weather forecasters reported thunderstorms and lightning in the area at the time of the crash.

According to Interfax, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to set up a commission to examine the crash.

Plane is workhorse of Russian fleet

The three-engine Tu-154 is the workhorse of Russia's commercial fleet, carrying about half of all Russian air passengers.

It was designed as the Soviet counterpart to the Boeing 727 and the European-made Trident, but with the added ability to operate from short, rough runways. About 1,000 were produced.

Although a popular aircraft, it has had a checkered history and has been involved in at least 30 air disasters since it went into service in 1968.

The former Soviet air fleet has been plagued by chronic safety problems since the 1991 collapse of the country.

Experts have blamed poor maintenance, safety violations and cost-cutting for a high accident rate.

CNN's Matthew Chance contributed to this report

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