Tupolev-154, an ageing Russian workhorse

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The Tupolev Tu-154 of the type that crashed near Moscow Saturday, killing two people and leaving dozens injured, was a best-seller for Russia's aircraft industry but has a chequered safety record.

The aircraft's last major fatal crash was on April 10, when a Tu-154 carrying Polish president Lech Kaczynski and other top officials came down in fog near the Russian city of Smolensk.

While more than 1,000 of the medium-range three-engine jet airliner were built, the Soviet design is elderly, first flying in 1972 and going out of production in 1994.

Similar in size and performance to a Boeing 737, with a range of 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles), the Tu-154 can carry between 155 and 180 passengers at a cruising speed of 850 kilometres an hour.

On July 15 last year an aircraft belonging to the Iranian company Caspian Airlines crashed in northern Iran, killing all 168 on board.

On August 22, 2006, a Tupolev of the Russian Pulkovo airline crashed in Ukraine after trying to fly above a storm, killing 171 people.

Other major accidents involving the Tu-154 were in July 2001 at Irkutsk in Siberia, with 145 dead, and in August 1996 on the Norwegian island of Spitzbergen, killing 141.

In September this year a Tu-154 made a "miraculous" emergency landing on an abandoned runway in Siberia with 81 people on board after suffering a mid-air power failure.

Nobody was hurt in the landing, which the pilot achieved with no working navigation gear and at high speed, overshooting the runway by several hundred metres (yards) but causing only minor damage.

© 2010 AFP

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