MOSCOW, Jan. 1 (Xinhua) -- At least three people were killed and more than 40 others injured when a Russian Tu-154 passenger jet exploded and caught fire at a Siberian airport on Saturday.
One woman died at the scene in the Western Siberian oil town of Surgut, said a Health Ministry spokesperson.
Emergency services spokesman Vadim Grebennikov said the fire, which began in one of the engines as the plane taxied for takeoff, caused a powerful blast that destroyed the aircraft and spread flames across an area of 100 square meters.
There were 116 passengers and eight crew members aboard the plane which was owned by the regional Kogalymavia airline.
"Refined data indicates that the fire aboard the Tupolev-154, bound to make a flight from Surgut to Moscow, affected 46 people as a result and three of them died," an official from the regional emergency service told the state-run Itar-Tass news agency.
However, the Russian Emergencies Ministry said that 44 people were injured, while the Health Ministry put the injured figure at 43.
Russian Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviation) told reporters that rescue teams tried to evacuate passengers and the crew swiftly.
"Most of the injured passengers suffer from traumas and burns," said a local law enforcement source.
Among the passengers were members of the Russian pop group Na- Na, who described the panic on board the plane.
"When the engines were started up, something went wrong and the outer covering of the plane caught fire," group member Vladimir Politov said by telephone, the RIA Novosti news agency reported. " We had trouble opening the emergency exits and people began to really panic, with some of them running right through the flames."
Politov said he and the other members of the group, which was popular in Russia in the 1990s, got out through an emergency exit over a wing and none of them was hurt.
A criminal investigation has been launched into the accident. Russian Investigation Committee's spokesman Vladimir Markin said the disaster might be caused by violation of fire safety rules and nonobservance of aircraft operation regulations.
The Tu-154 has been the workhorse of the Soviet and post-Soviet civilian aviation industry, first entering service in the 1970s. But after a series of crashes involving the aging fleet raised safety concerns, flagship carrier Aeroflot withdrew all of its Tu- 154s from service, with the last flight a year ago.
The mid-range jet remains, however, the mainstay of smaller airlines across Russia and the former Soviet Union. It is banned from parts of Europe due to excessive engine noise.