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Flames engulf Russian army plane at Czech airport

PRAGUE (AFP): A Russian army plane caught fire when a faulty landing gear sent it skidding off the runway Wednesday as it was arriving at a Czech military airport, injuring seven, authorities said.

"Seven people were injured, two of whom were taken to a hospital in Prague by helicopters with serious burns," local emergency service spokesman Petr Mach told AFP.

Mach said four others were taken to a local hospital and one was treated on the spot. Emergency services have ended their rescue operation, he added.

During landing at the Caslav airbase about 80 kilometres east of Prague, "the plane suffered a technological defect on the landing gear, it skidded off the runway and caught fire," Czech Chief-of-Staff Vlastimil Picek told reporters.

"According to a report from the accident site, the front landing gear broke," added Igor Konachenkov, spokesman for the Russian defence ministry, quoted by the Russian Interfax agency.

The Russian-made Antonov An-30 plane was carrying 23 passengers -- 14 Russians and nine Czechs.

Picek said all except one Russian soldier managed to escape from the plane immediately when flames engulfed it.

"The others then helped him get out, but he is the worst off as regards burns," Picek said, adding five Russians and one Czech were also injured.

Hana Vranova, spokeswoman for the Prague-Vinohrady hospital which runs a renowned burns unit, told public broadcaster Czech Television that two Russians were transported by helicopter to the hospital.

She added that one man with burns to 20 per cent of his body including his respiratory tract was in a serious condition, while the life of the other with seven-percent burns was under threat.

Czech defence ministry spokesman Jan Pejsek told AFP the plane was on a standard mission under the Open Skies programme -- an international project enabling flights over foreign territories to monitor and photograph places that are not usually accessible, including strategic facilities.

Television footage showed the singed cabin of the propeller aircraft virtually ripped in half and lying in a green field. The entire top of the cabin between the wings and the tail was missing.

Chief-of-staff spokeswoman Jana Ruzickova said the Russian embassy had been informed about the crash and that a defence ministry committee would be conducting an investigation into the accident.


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