AT least 12 people have died after a Bek Air flight carrying 98 passengers crashed shortly after takeoff in Kazakhstan.
Two babies are among the 49 survivors and victims sent out urgent SOS messages via social media after at the jet smashed through a concrete fence into a two-storey house.
Eight wounded children were rescued from the plane, operated by a Kazakhstan-based carrier.
It was carrying 93 passengers and five crew, and crashed at 7.22am local time (1.22am GMT), local aviation officials said.
Scores of those wounded have been rushed to local hospitals.
There is confusion over the death toll, as initial reports said that at least 15 were killed, but the Interior Ministry of the Central Asian nation has now revised the figure downward, to 12.
Desperate passengers were forced to take to social media to plead for help to be freed from the wreckage amid fears the stricken aircraft could explode.
The plane got into trouble immediately after takeoff, and disappeared from radar, crashing into the house in Almerek village – just beyond the end of the runway.
A Reuters reporter travelling to the airport soon after the crash said there was thick fog in the area.
The plane was torn into two parts, with its wreckage lying in snow, next to a house half-demolished by the impact, they added.
Passenger Gulnara Koshenova explained that shortly after takeoff from Almaty International Airport, “we started to gain height. Then there was a strong shake, and in the end the crash.
“Everything began to shake and fall. There were screams.
“Someone broke the emergency exit and we ran out.”
Journalist Dana Kruglova, 35, head of investigations at Informburo Kazakhstan, died in the crash alongside a former deputy interior minister, Major General Rustem Kairarov, 79.
Dana’s editor-in-chief, Mikhail Dorofeyev, described her as “honest, brave and unbiased at the same time.
“This is a terrible loss for all of us.”
Major General Rustem Kairarov had also previously worked as deputy head of the country’s Investigations Committee, in charge of probing serious crimes.
The plane’s captain, Murat Muratbayev, 58, died in hospital after being pulled out of the cockpit at the crash site.
Bek Air has offered “sincere condolences” to the bereaved.
Footage taken shortly after the crash shows emergency crews working at the scene.
A woman is heard crying and another can be heard shouting for help as crews search through rubble near the crashed plane.
One survivor, businessman Aslan Nazaraliyev, told the Vremya newspaper the plane started shaking while gaining altitude about two minutes after takeoff.
“At some point we started falling, not vertically, but at an angle. It seemed like control over the plane was lost,” he said.
Another survivor also told local news website Tengrinews the plane, a Fokker-100, was shaking during takeoff.
The woman said she heard a “terrifying sound” before the plane started losing altitude.
She added: “The plane was flying with a tilt. Everything was like in a movie: screaming, shouting, people crying.
“I was in such a state, I thought it was the end, then there was a crash and a terrible roar.
“And right in front of me – I was on the 13th row – and up to the 12th row some iron object fell.
“There was no way out. Someone shouted: ‘Get out!’
“I did not know where to go, I lost the ability to speak.
“Someone showed where to go. I was sitting next to the wing and there was an emergency exit. “I went out, stepped on the wing, jumped, fell down.
“They shouted: ‘Get away, it can explode.”
Everything was like in a movie: screaming, shouting, people crying.
Bek Air passenger
In one emotional video a woman is heard saying that the plane had crashed, amid screams from the wounded calling for ambulances to come to their aid.
The distraught passenger said: “There is a lot of people… crashed… Bek Air. People plead for ambulances and they don’t come.
“Where is the ambulance? [There are] many dead bodies already.
“It is terrible.”
Flight attendants “were calming everyone down”, said another survivor.
The plane was flying to Nur-Sultan, the country’s capital formerly known as Astana.
Authorities have not said what caused the accident.
But Deputy Prime Minister Roman Sklyar told reporters: “Before crashing, the aircraft touched the runway with its tail twice, the gear was retracted.
“A commission… will establish whether this was pilot error or technical issues. The runway was in an ideal condition.”
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev tweeted that those responsible “will be severely punished in accordance with the law.”
He pledged to provide families of the victims with compensation.
Reports said people were urgently donating blood to help save the wounded.
The crash site in Almerek has been cordoned off, as about 1,000 firefighters, paramedics and police officers helped victims at the snow-covered scene of the crash.
The government said the crashed plane was produced in 1996 and its most recent flight certificate was issued in May 2019.
The company manufacturing the aircraft went bankrupt in 1996 and the production of the Fokker-100 stopped the following year.
All Bek Air and Fokker-100 flights in Kazakhstan have been suspended pending the investigation of the crash, the country’s authorities said.