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Three dead in aircraft fire

Three people were killed today and dozens injured when an aircraft burst into flames before take-off on a runway at an airport in Russia's Far North, officials said.

The Tupolev plane with 116 passengers and eight crew on board had been due to fly from the city of Surgut in the Far North of Russia's Urals region to Moscow.

Reports said the plane completely burned in the accident, the latest deadly incident to hit the Russian aviation industry.

The region's emergencies ministry said three people had been killed, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported. The Interfax news agency quoted local prosecutors as saying that a child was among the three dead.

A spokesman for the emergencies ministry told ITAR-TASS that at least 46 people had also been injured.

The plane had started burning while taxiing on the runway at Surgut ahead of take-off, the investigative committee of prosecutors said in a statement.

"The emergency services were unable to put out the fire and there was an explosion. The passengers and members of the crew were evacuated before the explosion."

Russian news agencies named the airline as regional carrier Kogalymavia, also known as Kolavia.

The first images from the scene showed the wreckage of the plane slumped on the runway with a huge cloud of white smoke billowing from an engine.

Initial reports said that one of the plane's engines caught fire in the air and it made an emergency landing but subsequently officials said that the incident had taken place before take-off on the runway.

"There was a thick, black smoke and people started to panic. They were literally stepping on each other's heads," said Sergei Grigoriyev, a singer with popular Russian rock group Na-Na who were on the plane.

"I saw my life flash before me," he said according to ITAR-TASS.

The investigative committee said that a criminal probe had been opened into a possible violation of air transport security rules.

Transport Minister Igor Levitin said it was not clear what had caused the accident.

"The plane was taxiing on the runway and preparing for take-off," he said according to the Interfax news agency. "The specialists do not understand what sparked the fire."

Earlier this month, a plane with 169 people on board rolled off the runway at Moscow's Domodedovo airport on landing and broke into three pieces, killing two and injuring more than 80.

In September, a Russian Tupolev plane carrying 81 people made a "miracle" crash landing at a deserted air strip deep in the Siberian taiga after a complete mid-flight power failure.

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