Azeri passenger plane crashes

Friday, December 23, 2005 An Azerbaijan passenger plane has crashed after taking off from the country's capital, Baku, officials say. There was no immediate confirmation of casualties, but the plane is thought to have been carrying at least 18 people. The Azerbaijan Airlines (Azal) aircraft was heading to Aktau in Kazakhstan, according to Russian news sources.

The Ria news agency said the plane took off at 2119 (1819 GMT) but disappeared from radar screens 20 minutes later as it flew along the Caspian Sea coast. It is reported to have come down near the village of Kyurdakhany, about 15km (10 miles) from Baku, Ria said. An interior ministry official told the AFP news agency that the plane had crashed with 23 people on board.

The Associated Press news agency described the plane as an An-140 twin engine turboprop. A police spokesman, who gave his name as Kadykov, told Reuters news agency: "The plane has crashed, 23 people on board are dead. An operations centre was set up near the Caspian coastline some 20km (13 miles) north of Baku, AP reported. A doctor at a hospital in Baku said that two bodies were recovered from the suspected crash site. Baku and Akmau are centres of the Caspian Sea oil industry.