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Death Toll of Baikonur Building Collapse Reaches 7 - 2002-05-14


Searchers have pulled another body from the wreckage of a building at Russia's Baikonur space facility in Kazakhstan. The man was killed after the building's roof collapsed.

Another body was retrieved Tuesday from the rubble of a hanger at the Baikonur complex, bringing the number of people known to have died in the accident to seven.

Russian media reported the search for remaining survivors has been called off. Earlier there were believed to be eight workers on the roof doing maintenance and repairs when it collapsed on Sunday. But Russian television reported that officials now believe there may have been only seven people on the roof.

Six bodies were recovered on Monday but the search was slowed because of bad weather. Officials were afraid the strong winds would cause the walls that are still standing to fall over onto the rescue workers as they were searching through the rubble.

There is still no official reason why the roof caved in and a Russian government commission that was investigating the accident is scheduled to return to Moscow on Tuesday with their findings.

Russian officials have suggested that one of the fuel tanks inside the hanger could have fallen over creating a huge rush of air. The air then caused the roof to expand and then cave in. But Kazakh officials have indicated that the accident may be due to design flaws.

The enormous hanger was used to house old Russian and Soviet rockets.

On Tuesday, the area around the damaged building was still cordoned off. Officials said they were not sure whether the building could be repaired or would have to be destroyed.

Although the Baikonur facility is located in Kazakhstan, the Russian government leases it for its space program.

The Russian and Kazakh governments have often argued about who should control the facility and how much Russia should pay to lease it.

Baikonur has played a major role in both the Russian and Soviet space programs. Yuri Gagarin, the first person in space, took off from Baikonur in 1961.

Last year, an American businessman became the first tourist in space when he blasted off from Baikonur. A South African millionaire became the second tourist in space in April when he took off from Baikonur as well.

Each paid a reported $20 million to the Russian Space Agency for the trip into space, money that has become an important source of funding for the cash-strapped agency.

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