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Passenger plane crash kills 21 in Kazakhstan

By Mariya Gordeyeva

KYZYL TU, Kazakhstan (Reuters) - A passenger plane crashed in thick fog near Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty on Tuesday and broke into pieces when it hit the ground, killing all 21 people on board.

After several hours, rescue teams recovered the plane's flight recorder, the central communications service for Kazakhstan's president said on its Twitter page.

A list published by the prosecutor-general's office showed there had been 16 passengers and five crew members on board.

The Canadian-built Bombardier Challenger CRJ-200 belonged to private Kazakh airline SCAT. It came down near the village of Kyzyl Tu about 5 km (3 miles) from Almaty's airport.

"There was no fire, no explosion. The plane just plunged to the earth," Yuri Ilyin, deputy head of the city's emergencies department, told Reuters near the scene.

Parts of the plane could be seen in the thick snow. Tractors and other heavy vehicles were being used cut paths through the snow to the wreckage but journalists were kept at a distance from the crash site.

It was the second fatal plane crash in the former Soviet republic in just a over a month.

Visibility at Kyzyl Tu was only about 20 to 30 meters (yards), and much of the area around Almaty was veiled in fog when the plane crashed at around 1 p.m. (2 a.m. ET).

"The preliminary cause of the accident is bad weather," Deputy Almaty Mayor Maulen Mukashev told reporters. "Not a single part of the plane was left intact after it came down."

The plane had been on its way from the city of Kokshetau in northern Kazakhstan to Almaty in the southeast, Mukashev said.

SCAT, which has been operating since 1997, runs an extensive domestic service and has some international flights.

Alexander Gordeyev, deputy head of Almaty's airport, said the weather had been bad but planes were being allowed to land.

A military transport airplane crashed in bad weather on December 25 near the southern Kazakh city of Shymkent, killing all 27 on board. Prosecutors have said a combination of technical problems, bad weather and human error caused that accident.

(Additional reporting and writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Louise Ireland and Timothy Heritage)

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