ALMATY, Kazakhstan - A Canadian-made airplane carrying at least 20 people crashed today in heavy fog near Kazakhstan's principal city, Almaty, killing all on board.
Local officials say the two-engine regional jet disappeared from radar view at around 13:13 p.m. local time, more than 20 minutes after it had been scheduled to land.
State news agency Kazinform cites an emergency official at the site of the crash as saying the plane was initially denied permission to land by the airport due to poor visibility.
The plane — a Bombardier CRJ200 — then made a second approach, but lost its bearings and crashed a few kilometres from the airport.
The accident highlights persistent concerns over aviation safety in Kazakhstan, almost all of whose airlines are banned from flying to Western Europe.
The SCAT airline says the plane had undergone repairs in Slovenia four months ago.
Officials said the cause for the crash will not be determined until flight recorder data are examined.
Unusually intense snowfalls and fog have been causing chronic flight delays across the Central Asian nation over the past few weeks.
The General Prosecutor's Office said it is opening a criminal investigation into the airline, which is usual in such cases. Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov ordered the creation of a state commission to investigate the crash.
In a statement on his official website, President Nursultan Nazarbayev expressed his sorrow for those killed.
"On behalf of the people of Kazakhstan and myself, I express deep condolences to the bereaved families," the statement said.
This is the second major aircraft accident recently in Kazakhstan. In December, 27 people died when an An-72 military plane crashed near the southern city of Shymkent during violent snowstorms.
SCAT, which is based in Shymkent, is banned from flying within the European Union. The company operates regional flights within Kazakhstan, a country of 16.5 million people spread across an area two and a half times the size of Ontario.
Many of Kazakhstan's airlines still operate old Soviet-era planes and some regional airports are poorly maintained. EU officials are also concerned about poor training of staff.
Only one airline in Kazakhstan, state-owned Air Astana, is authorized to fly to the EU.