More than 160 passengers and crew on a commercial flight escaped with seconds to spare after the aircraft skidded off a runway, crashed into a river and burst into flames.

Rescue crews managed to evacuate passengers and the cabin crew from the Boeing 737 plane, where people were forced to jump down onto the wings of the plane and "throw" their children down to safety.

All 170 passengers and crew managed to escape from the wreckage in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi. One airport employee helping with the rescue mission died from a heart attack at the scene.

It took the aircraft two attempts to land, with strong wind and rain likely to be behind the first failed attempt.

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The crew managed to land the plane but it overshot the runway, crashed through a fence, plummeted into the riverbed and caused the left engine to catch alight, an Utair spokesman told RIA Novosti.

Russian authorities confirmed 18 people were injured during the evacuation of 164 passengers and six crew from the burning Utair plane.

At least four people on board the plane were hospitalised with burns, and another suffered a broken spine.

Passengers said the emergency inflatable chutes which extend from the plane to the ground did not inflate immediately during their evacuation, forcing some to jump from the burning wreckage.

Utair's Boeing 737 plane: Passengers escaped the burning wreckage over the wings of the plane. Photo / TASS, via Getty Images
Utair's Boeing 737 plane: Passengers escaped the burning wreckage over the wings of the plane. Photo / TASS, via Getty Images

Distressing videos shows the plane erupt in flames - but there was time for some of the passengers and crew to escape using the emergency chutes.

Both wings broke and there was damage to the undercarriage.

Reports on state news agency TASS suggested one wing clipped the ground as the plane landed in bad weather.

The plane aborted several failed landing attempts before the pilot told them he they would touchdown, said rescued passengers.

"The plane attempted to land several times, unsuccessfully, and finally the pilot said we were landing," said a couple on board the stricken Boeing.

"This wasn't a success either. We landed, everyone started clapping - and immediately the left side of the plane caught fire," said one.

"We were sitting right next to emergency exit. Everything happened in a blink of an eye, so, so fast."

A male passenger said: "Everything happened very quick.

"The emergency exits were open, but there were no chutes people were jumping onto both wings to escape."

A woman said: "It was rain and thunderstorm outside, and people were just jumping down from 5 or 6 metres (16-20ft)."

She said: "People were throwing children down from the wings, and catching them on the ground."

An emergency source told TASS that at 2.59am local time (12.59am UK time) the plane "hit the ground with one of its wings, skidded off the runway and caught fire".

The fire was reported to have been extinguished by 3.20am.

In one video a middle-aged passenger in the plane calls anxiously to his wife saying:

"Lyusya, Lyusuaaa!….We crashed.

"But everything is okay."

A health ministry statement in Sochi said: "At the moment, there are 18 injured, including three children. There are no fatalities."

The plane on a two hour flight from Moscow spun off the runway while landing in "atrocious" conditions, according to reports.

"The Boeing737 from Moscow rolled off the runway during landing at Sochi airport and caught fire. According to the preliminary data, six people were injured," an emergency official said.

Sochi International Airport: At least four people were hospitalised after the plane, pictured, rolled off the airport runway. Photo / Artur Lebede, Getty Images
Sochi International Airport: At least four people were hospitalised after the plane, pictured, rolled off the airport runway. Photo / Artur Lebede, Getty Images

"There were 164 passengers and six crew on board. Sochi airport firefighters extinguished the flames and evacuated the people. There are no fatalities," said Utair, Russia's fourth largest airline, based in Siberia.

Utair said it was investigating the incident together with aviation authorities. A spokesperson for the Sochi airport said there were no delays, planes were taking off and landing as usual.

Among the injured passengers were the following - all women: Lidia Kosheleva, born 1955, foot injury; Valentina Platonova, (1947), broken spine, Irina Kononova, (1967), ankle injury;Inna Shapkina, (1955), left foot injury; and Marina Panikhidina, (1961), broken ribs and chest injury.

A criminal probe was opened into the crash landing.

"A criminal investigation has been opened into the emergency landing… on suspicion of inadequate services with a risk to clients' health,' said the southern transport department of Russia's Investigative Committee."

More details were not given.

Earlier today another Utair plane was forced to land on one engine in the Siberian city of Surgut.