Emergency services in central-western Russia have launched a search for a small plane which went missing after an unauthorized take-off, authorities said on Tuesday. As many as thirteen people are believed to be on board.
A spokesman for Russia's Investigative Committee said the single-engine Antonov An-2 aircraft took off from a small airstrip in Serov, a mining town in Sverdlovsk Oblast, at around 11 p.m. local time on Monday. "The aircraft took off from the site without notice to air traffic control," he said.
The small plane had been leased by its owner to monitor forest fires in the region and took off without its co-pilot and mechanic, adding to the mystery. "The absence of the aircraft was discovered by the co-pilot and mechanic after they returned from a short trip to the town of Serov," the spokesman said. But he said the pilot and a security guard for the airstrip were believed to be on board.
Police, which were informed about the incident more than nine hours after the aircraft took off, believe as many as thirteen people could have been on board the aircraft. Three abandoned cars were discovered near where the plane had been parked, authorities said, but it was not immediately known to whom they belong.
Emergency crews searched the region on Tuesday but have found no trace of the aircraft, and it remains unclear why it took off. The Moscow Times reported that some officials believe the aircraft may have been hijacked by drunken revelers to celebrate the extended holiday weekend with a fishing trip.
The passengers on board the aircraft have not answered their mobile phones since the aircraft went missing, adding to fears it may have made an emergency landing or crashed. The Antonov An-2 is a single-engine light utility transport biplane usually used for agricultural work.