MOSCOW (AFP) - What looked like a large hole in the wing did not stop a Russian airline jet from taking off for Siberia with dozens of panicked passengers on board.

The Boeing 737 jet was delayed on the tarmac of a Moscow airport when one of the passengers looked out of a window and noticed an oval-shaped gap on the left wing above one of the engines.

A video posted on the Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid website showed the man complaining to a cabin crew member and the incident being reported to the cockpit.

The paper said the Transaero pilot had by that stage already abandoned one attempt to take off because his indicators had issued a warning.

A second attempt was then called off when passengers began “rushing for the exits,” Komsomolskaya Pravda said.

An airline spokesman said 27 of the 70 or so passengers on board were let off the flight on Monday but denied that the pilot had to abandon any takeoff attempts. “The flight was delayed,” Transaero spokesman Konstantin Tyurkin told AFP.

The plane eventually landed more than three hours behind schedule in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. The private airline called the incident little more than a misunderstanding.

Tyurkin said the pilot had simply been alerted to a malfunction in the jet’s air conditioning system and was investigating the incident without alerting the passengers on board. The delay apparently gave one person time to notice the missing wing element and raise the alarm.

Tyurkin said all that was missing from the wing was the cover to a hatch workers use to check the left engine. It was not immediately clear who had misplaced the hefty piece of equipment or why.

“This was a technical element. Its absence doesn’t prevent takeoff,” said Tyurkin. “It does not affect safety.”

Russian news reports said Moscow transportation officials had opened a preliminary probe into the case.