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YEKATERINBURG, June 25 (Itar-Tass) — Rescuers have searched some 145,000 square kilometers of terrain in the Sverdlovsk region where an An-2 plane went missing two weeks ago. "Nobody has suggested calling off the search yet," an official at the regional department of the Emergency Situations Ministry /EMERCOM/ told Itar-Tass.
Ground search parties are combing the districts around the Bely Kamen mountain located not far from the town of Severouralsk. Rescuers are using echo sounders to probe the bottom of Lake Valentorskoye.
"The search efforts involve 1,400 persons and 13 aircraft," the official said, adding that "a total of 145,000 square kilometers of area have been searched since the beginning of the rescue efforts."
Simultaneously, the plane is being looked for in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area and the Chelyabinsk, Kurgan and Tyumen regions.
EMERCOM said the total search is around 160,000 square kilometers.
Regional police said in the evening of June 11, a group of persons drank alcohol before boarding the plane in Serov. Several cars were left behind in the airfield. Supposedly, they belong to passengers. Under one of the versions, the group might have gone fishing or flown to a sauna in a neighboring region. The passengers' mobile phones do not answer.
According to preliminary information, Khatib Kashapov, a native of the town of Orsk, Orenburg region, took off on crop-duster An-2 without permission. The plane belongs to Avi Zov, a company based in Chelyabinsk.
It can have up to 12 persons on board and the pilot, including the Serov road police chief, a road policeman, a guard, a pensioner, a businessman, a mobile phone seller and others, spokesman for the Interior Ministry's regional department Valery Gorelykh said.
Criminal proceedings were opened over the disappearance of the An-2 plane under Criminal Code article on "violation of aircraft operation regulations and traffic rules, which resulted in the death of two or more persons by negligence."
Sverdlovsk region governor Yevgeny Kuivashev demanded a thorough probe into the incident and a check of all small-range aviation airfields for compliance with flight safety rules.