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Two Russian passenger airliners carrying some 300 passengers between
Two Russian passenger airliners carrying some 300 passengers between them were seconds away from colliding in midair near Moscow, a paper said on Thursday, citing the state air navigation service.

The catastrophe was averted with just moments to spare as a Tu-154 and a Boeing were on collision course after taking off from Moscow's Vnukovo and Domodedovo airports, Rossiiskaya Gazeta said, referring to Rosaeronavigatsiya chief Alexander Neradko.

The air traffic controller on duty in Moscow ordered the Boeing pilots to stop climbing and they responded instantly, saving the passengers' lives, the government daily newspaper reported.

"The passengers were within an inch of death, the situation was unfolding too fast," the article read.

The incident took place in late April, but was not made public until this week. The planes were both performing internal flights, with the Boeing bound for the Far East port of Vladivostok, and the Tu-154 heading for the Volga Region city of Samara.

The Tu-154 had taken off without retracting its landing gear, and was losing speed. As a result, the plane was doomed to collide with the Boeing, flying lower along the same air corridor at a distance of 4 kilometers (about 2.5 miles), the paper said.

It normally takes pilots 30-40 seconds to begin to fulfill controllers' instructions, which is often too late to deter an accident, the paper said. Controllers' negligence or their shock at the sight of two planes moving toward each other on a radar screen are also cited among causes of air crashes.

The Tu-154 crew was temporarily barred from flights following the incident, and is under investigation over its failure to promptly respond to the controller and retract the plane's landing gear after takeoff, the paper said.

A midair collision of a Russian Tu-154 airliner and a Boeing 757 cargo plane near the Swiss border in Germany in 2002 killed all 69 people on board, including 45 children, as well as the cargo plane's two pilots.


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