Children's holiday party on doomed plane
MOSCOW, Russia -- About 50 of the victims of a midair plane crash over Germany were Russian children going on holiday to Spain.
Most were children of high-ranking Russian regional officials from the oil-rich Bashkortostan autonomous republic, Bashkirian Airlines deputy general Viner Shakirov told CNN.
The children were passengers on the Bashkirian Airlines Tu-154 flying from Moscow to Barcelona when it collided with a DHL Boeing 757 cargo jet at about 12,000 metres (36,000 feet) above Lake Constance in southern Germany on Monday night.
At least 70 people died in the crash, with burning wreckage scattered for miles. (Full story)
The head of Bashkirian Airlines Moscow office, Sergei Rybanov, told CNN that the children, under 16 years old, had been due to leave on Sunday but had arrived late in Moscow and had not taken off until Monday.
"It was not a planned flight," he told reporters. "They should have flown on Sunday from Sheremetyevo airport but were delayed. Because they were from Bashkortostan, we met their request (for a charter flight)," he said.
Moscow travel agent Tatiana Ostapenko told The Associated Press that her company had helped organize a group of 44 children and five adults for the flight. "We are in shock," she said.
Russian media reported that President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov expressed their condolences to the families of the victims.
The families of the children were issued emergency visas and on Tuesday morning were on their way to the location of disaster in southern Germany.
"If only they had flown on time, nothing would have happened," a mother of one of the victims told the AP.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were set aside for mourning in Bashkortostan, a Russian region in the southern Ural Mountains.
The accident happened at the beginning of holiday season for Russians, who have only been able to travel freely to the West since the breakup of the Soviet Union 12 years ago. Spain is one of their favourite places for inexpensive holidays.
Russian investigators headed by deputy transport minister Pavel Rozhkov were travelling to Germany to help with the investigation.
Representatives of Russian National Civil Aviation Service and International Aviation Committee were also on their way.
-- CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.
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