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6 bodies removed from scene of collapse

ALMATY - Rescuers pulled six bodies Monday from a mass of mangled beams after a hangar roof collapsed at Russia's main space launch site, and searched for two other trapped workers.

Emergency officials held out little hope that anyone had survived the Sunday accident at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. A construction brigade of seven Kazakhs and one Belarusian was on the roof of the 80-meter (260-foot) tall hangar when it caved in.

Russia, which oversees the site, would not allow Kazakh rescuers to approach the building. A Russian rescue brigade of 64 people arrived at the site overnight and retrieved six bodies by midday Monday, said Viktor Beltsov, spokesman for the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry.

The hangar, used for assembling Buran and Energia rockets, remained cordoned off Monday because of fears that the walls could collapse. The only Buran to ever fly into space was trapped beneath the debris, Russian news reports said.

The top panels of three of the hangar's outside walls crumbled along with the roof at the time of the accident. In footage shown on Russia's state-run RTR television, the top of the white building was a tangled pile of metal.

Space officials ruled out terrorism or poor building maintenance as causes of the accident.

Russian Space Agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov said it could have been prompted by something falling on one of the massive fuel tanks kept inside the hangar, which would have produced a huge blast of air that caused the roof to swell and collapse.

Kairzhan Turezhanov, a spokesman for the Kazakh Emergency Situations Committee, said one possible cause being investigated was a design miscalculation when the building was constructed in the 1980s.

Gorbunov, speaking on RTR, insisted that the accident would not hinder Russian rocket development.

The accident revived tensions between Russia and Kazakhstan over the launch site, which Moscow leases from the Kazakh government. The cosmodrome was built in the Soviet era when both nations were part of the same country, and was a major player in the space race, launching the world's first satellite in 1957 and the first space traveler, Yuri Gagarin, four years later.

A Russian government commission led by Russian space agency chief Yuri Koptev and Science and Industry Minister Ilya Klebanov was appointed to investigate the accident, the Interfax news agency said.


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