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YEKATERINBURG, November 13 (Itar-Tass) — The search for the An-2 plane missing in the Urals region since June officially stopped on Tuesday. The relevant instruction was signed by regional Prime Minister Denis Pasler.
The document notes that due to the worsening weather conditions and snow cover, the ground and aerial search for the missing aircraft is impossible, because it places the rescuers at risk.
The document did not say if the search might resume next spring.
Aircraft and ground search parties have surveyed more than one million square kilometers since the plane's disappearance. The search extended to the Perm Territory, the Chelyabinsk, Tyumen and Kurgan regions and the Khanty Mansi Autonomous Area.
Some areas were scanned twice. Aircraft searched 870,500 square kilometers, and ground parties - more than 207,000 square kilometers. Taking part in the rescue effort were 1,500 persons, 13 aircraft and some 320 units of other equipment, representative of the regional department of the Emergency Situations Ministry Vadim Grebennikov told Itar-Tass.
The Resurs-DK satellite photographed 12,500 square kilometers of the territory where the An-2 might have crashed. Since the satellite is obsolete it was unable to scan more. The findings were passed to the Roskosmos aerospace agency. It planned to use the newest Canopus-B unit which had passed flight trials successfully in late October. "Now that the ground search is complete, it is not known if Canopus-B will be used in the search," a Roskosmos official said.
The search was heavily concentrated in the Sverdlovsk region, where rescuers scanned locations around the town of Serov 731 times.
As of now, the search parties have left the possible crash site areas. Lately, the people have worked in adverse weather conditions as temperatures dropped below zero and the snow was falling.
Everybody was making the maximum efforts to find the plane. "The issue was under personal supervision of governor Yevgeny Kuvashev, regional prime Minister Denis Pasler and regional police chief Mikhail Borodin," police spokesman Valery Gorelykh said.
The Sverdlovsk police garrison and special task force police were actively involved in the search for the AN-2 from the beginning. The search parties did all they could, Gorelykh emphasized.
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."
On October 16, the investigation into the criminal case was suspended pending additional information.
"That the search has stopped does not imply that the criminal probe will not be resumed. If we learn new details about the plane's disappearance, the probe will continue," senior public relations officer Marina Bubkina told Itar-Tass, noting that the An-2 passengers have not been listed as missing yet.
Under the law, the persons officially unaccounted for are those who have been missing for a year.
During the search, experts, relatives and investigators suggested many versions which were later not substantiated.
Initially, many believed that the plane had been downed by the military.
But chief of the 2nd Air Force and Air Defense command of the Central Military District, Maj-Gen Viktor Sevostyanov denied this information at a news conference. "We have nothing to do with this incident," Sevostyanov stated.
Gennady Cheurin, honorary arctic region expert, believes that the pilot was used to the steppe landscape, and hence might have lost his bearings in a natural anomaly in the region.
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 belonged 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 did not answer.
Khatib Kashapov, a native of the town of Orsk, Orenburg region, took off on crop-duster An-2 without permission. It reportedly had up to 13 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.
The quality of fuel could not have caused the crash, investigators confirmed later.