'Pilot error' probed in Russia crash

2011-06-22 20:01
Moscow - Russians left flowers and toys on Wednesday at the site of the air crash that killed 45 people as questions mounted over why the pilot tried to land in poor weather at a low-tech provincial airport.

Members of the public laid flowers, candles and handwritten cards at the site of the tragedy on a highway, Russian television showed, as the northern Karelia region lowered its flags for three days of official mourning.

The latest victim was a 10-year-old boy, Anton Terekhin, who survived the crash but died in hospital from his injuries.

"Anton Terekhin died last night. He had grave injuries," spokesperson for regional health ministry, Elena Kokovurova, said.

The boy's sister, Anastasia Terekhina, was also among the eight survivors and was taken to Moscow for medical treatment on Tuesday, Kokovurova said.

The children were travelling with their mother, Oksana Terekhina, whose name was on the list of the dead released by the emergency ministry on Wednesday.

Conclusions premature

The RusAir Tupolev 134 aircraft was flying from Moscow's Domodedovo airport to Petrozavodsk, the largest city in Karelia, and crashed onto a highway short of the airport runway, bursting into flames.

Investigators have warned against drawing premature conclusions but even top officials have publicly said it was an error for the pilot to attempt landing at Petrozavodsk's small airport in heavy fog and rain.

The pilot had "until the last moment looked for the runway visually but did not see it", Russian news agencies quoted Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying on the sidelines of the Paris airshow.

The aircraft veered around 300m to the right as it approached for landing and fell short of the runway by around 1km, a spokesperson for the federal aviation authority told Kommersant daily.

"This means that they lost their orientation in the air."

Experts quoted in Russian media said it was unsafe to attempt a landing in bad weather because of the primitive equipment used by air traffic controllers at the small airport.

Pilot advised not to land

The airfield, designed for military aircraft, is only safe to use in good weather when the pilot can physically see the aircraft's position, Kommersant wrote, quoting a pilot familiar with the airport.

"We can already say that by trying to land at an airfield without modern navigation systems in extremely difficult weather conditions, the plane's pilots took an unjustified risk," the newspaper wrote.

Vadim Bazykin, a decorated pilot who spent 10 years at Petrozavodsk, told Komsomolskaya Pravda daily that "the airfield needs to be re-equipped to make flights safer. We put all the reliance on the pilots."

News website lifenews.ru quoted the air traffic controller on duty as saying the pilot was advised not to land in the prevailing bad conditions but had ignored the warning.

The aircraft's chief pilot, Alexander Fyodorov, who died in the crash, was highly experienced, with more than 8 500 hours of flying, many of them on the Tupolev 134 aircraft, Kommersant reported.

Investigators from the Moscow-based inter-state air commission were studying the aircraft's black boxes, located at the scene.

Devastating fire

The crash was the latest in a series of accidents involving Russia's ageing fleet of aircraft, with the Soviet-era Tupolev jets having a particularly poor safety record.

The force of the impact and exploding fuel scattered fragments of the aircraft and charred bodies over hundreds of metres, while the aircraft narrowly missed a nearby village.

So devastating was the fire that out of the 44 initial victims, only 25 could be identified visually, while the other remains would require DNA testing, health officials said.

A Swedish national, a Dutch citizen and two Ukrainians were among the dead, as well as a family of four with dual Russian and US citizenship, the emergencies ministry said on its website.

The Russians who died included a well-known football referee, Vladimir Pettai, and five senior nuclear energy experts.

Read more on:    russia  |  air travel

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