An Aeroflot Sukhoi Superjet-100 made an emergency landing and burst into flames just after takeoff from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport killing at least 41 people.
Two children are among the dead. The jet had 73 passengers and five crew members.
“There are 37 survivors – 33 passengers and four members of the crew,” said Yelena Markovskaya, an official involved in the investigation of the crash.
A flight attendant was also reportedly killed in the incident. Five people are in hospital. One witness said it was a “miracle” anyone escaped.
Dramatic video shows passengers using emergency exit slides to escape the burning Russian aircraft.
Survivors suggest the plane was struck by lightning, but Russia’s national carrier said only that it returned to the airport for technical reasons.
Initial reports suggested the plane had landed on fire, but sources quoted by Russian news agency Interfax said the jet caught fire after a very bumpy landing.
The plane landed with full fuel tanks because the crew lost contact with air traffic controllers and decided it was too dangerous to dump fuel over Moscow, Interfax added.
PM Dmitry Medvedev has ordered a special committee to investigate the disaster.
The aircraft left the airport at 18:02 local time, bound for Murmansk.
Its crew sent a distress signal when “malfunctions” occurred in bad weather shortly after take-off.
After making an emergency landing at the airport, the aircraft’s engines caught fire on the runway, Aeroflot said, adding that the crew “did everything to save the passengers”.
Aeroflot published a list of survivors who have been identified so far.
Murmansk’s Acting Governor Andrey Chibis has reportedly said that the families of those killed in the fire will each receive one million rubles ($15,300), while the victims being treated in hospital will be given 500,000 rubles ($7,650).
With millions of commercial flights taking place every year, lightning strikes in the air are relatively common.
Traditional planes, built using aluminum, are usually able to withstand such strikes as the shell or “skin” of the aircraft acts as a cage, distributing the electricity without causing damage and allowing them to continue their journey safely. Some newer aircraft are constructed using lighter materials that have lower electrical conductivity, such as carbon fiber, which need to be protected – often using wire mesh or foil.