All 145 people aboard a Tu-154 plane were killed when it inexplicably turned 180 degrees and fell to the ground Wednesday on its final approach to the Irkutsk airport.
"I can see the runway," were the last words of pilot Valentin Goncharuk to air traffic controllers before the plane crashed into a meadow 22 kilometers from the airport.
The plane was making a refueling stop on a flight from Yekaterinburg to Vladivostok. It crashed shortly after 2 a.m. local time (9 p.m. Moscow time).
Television footage showed pictures of smoldering chunks of metal among the sooty debris. Only the aircraft's tail, bearing the logo of the airline Vladivostokavia, and the landing gear were recognizable.
Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, who flew to the site, said it was possible that all three of the plane's engines failed at once, Interfax reported. Shoigu said he had reason to believe this because when the crew last communicated with ground control, three minutes before the crash, they reported no problems. A failure in the aircraft's altimeter was also being considered, he said.
Moscow-based aviation analyst Paul Duffy said that if all three engines shut down, it was likely that one engine disintegrated and damaged lines necessary to control the aircraft. The fire after the crash indicates that the plane did not run out of fuel, he said in a telephone interview.
However, Vladimir Belogub, the general director of the Aviakor plant in Samara, the manufacturer of the Tu-154, said on RTR television that all three engines shutting down was "highly unlikely from a technical point of view."
The plane appeared to hit the ground flat, and it was facing 180 degrees off course, Shoigu told reporters in televised remarks.
"It is so hard to comprehend how it could happen … based on an elementary knowledge of aerodynamics," Shoigu told reporters at the scene. "It is a weird accident."
There was no explosion on board before the plane hit the ground, judging by the concentration of the debris in an area 100 meters by 60 meters, Ruppel said.
The plane was at a height of 850 meters and had just completed the third of four turns in its landing pattern when it lost contact with air traffic controllers, he said.
Contrary to some reports, the plane made only one attempt to land, the State Civil Aviation Service said, confirming that the pilots reported no problems.
Ruppel cautioned against jumping to any conclusions until a technical commission has had time to analyze data from the flight recorders, which will take two to three days. All three flight recorders were recovered and found to be in good condition, he said.
First Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who also flew to Irkutsk, was more emphatic.
"All references to someone's opinions are without grounds," he said on RTR. "This will traumatize the relatives of passengers and the crew. There are many versions that we cannot talk about from either a technical or a moral point of view."
The plane crashed about four kilometers from the village Burdakovka. A local woman told RTR that she heard the drone of the plane. "I looked, it flew over there. … Then it hit. There was an explosion, flames."
RTR reported that a few whole corpses were found, although they were severely burned.
The plane carried 136 passengers, six of them children, four crew and five cabin members. Among the passengers on Flight DD352 were 12 Chinese nationals.
President Vladimir Putin declared Thursday a national day of mourning. He ordered flags to be flown at half staff and asked television stations to pull any entertainment programs.
World media:News in Russian from local media
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I send to the Families of the Deads in iRKUTSK Aircrush my deep CONDOLENCES. Once more the dear Russian People must
feel sad days as the last august with KURSK Submarine.
Dorogie Russkie Druzia,ia khochu plakat' s Vami vashi
Miortyi: Vasha Pechal, tozhew moia Pechal.
Vsiegda Drug Rossii, i Russkogo Naroda: Francesco .
- July 06, 2001
Our deepest condolences. We have been to Irkutsk twice in 2001 and have
a deep love for it's people and beautiful land. We have always felt so
safe flying to Irkutsk. This is so very tragic. Our prayers and
thoughts with you all.
Judy Malisheski Sheldon,
By Robert Cottrell in Moscow - Jul 10 2001 16:55:44
Pilot error caused the crash of a Russian aircraft on July 3 in which 145 people died, investigators confirmed on Tuesday.
But they said mystery remained about why the flight commander and co-pilot made the mistakes that caused the Tupolev-154 aircraft to lurch, stall and spin to the ground, killing all passengers and crew. The aircraft was preparing to land at Irkutsk airport in Siberia.
Ilya Klebanov, a deputy prime minister appointed by President Vladimir Putin to head a special investigation commission, said on Tuesday the findings were based on a decoding of the aircraft's flight recorders.
At the time of the crash the aircraft was being flown by the co-pilot, under orders from the flight commander, the flight recorders showed. The autopilot was off. There was "an unintended action, a full twist of the joystick, which threw the aircraft at an excessive angle, forcing it into a spin that resulted in collision with the ground", Mr Klebanov said.
The pilots' voices indicated a "normal emotional state" during the flight, Mr Klebanov said. But when an on-board computer warned that the aircraft was being turned at too sharp an angle, the voices showed signs of high and rising stress. The flight commander issued orders which the co-pilot failed to follow, Mr Klebanov said.
"We have to understand why this happened to an absolutely normally functioning aircraft in normal weather and in the course of generally simple operations," Mr Klebanov said. "The pilots stopped acting reasonably at a certain point. The flying became progressively more erroneous."
The investigators gave a clean bill of health to both the aircraft and its operating company, Vladivostok Avia. "The fuselage, systems, engines and avionics were functioning normally" said Mr Klebanov. The flight commander and co-pilot were experienced, well-trained, and had not been overworked in the preceding days, he said.
The commission has already said it will recommend building a new airport outside Irkutsk. The existing airport is inside the city limits, requiring a steep approach. Three planes have crashed there fatally in the past seven years.
© Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2001.