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Reports: Pilot Error Being Probed In Russian Jet Crash That Killed 41

The charred remains of an Aeroflot Sukhoi Superjet 100 are taken off the runway after it crash-landed at Sheremetyevo International Airport on May 5.
The charred remains of an Aeroflot Sukhoi Superjet 100 are taken off the runway after it crash-landed at Sheremetyevo International Airport on May 5.

MOSCOW – Russian news reports say that investigators are looking at whether pilot error is to blame for the crash of a Sukhoi Superjet 100 at a Moscow airport that killed 41 people.

The Kommersant newspaper on May 7 quoted unnamed sources as saying the pilots of Flight SU1492 made several mistakes before and after the craft’s emergency landing at Sheremetyevo airport, including flying into a thunderstorm and then landing with a full tank rather than circling to use up fuel.

The business daily RBK, meanwhile, quoted unnamed sources as saying that, after the plane had landed, the pilots opened a cockpit window, which could have fanned flames inside the craft, and that they failed to switch off engines immediately upon coming to a stop.

Officials said 41 people were killed after the jet burst into flames on the runway during the May 5 landing. Of the 33 survivors, about a dozen required medical treatment, many for smoke inhalation. Two people were hospitalized in critical condition.

Investigators said they were still examining data from the two flight recorders and that it could take a week or more to determine a cause.

Investigative Committee spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko said investigators were looking into several possible causes: insufficiently skilled pilots, air-traffic controllers, or technicians who examined the aircraft; a faulty plane; and bad weather.

Transport Minister Yevgeny Ditrikh on May 6 said there was no reason ground the nation’s fleet of Sukhoi Superjet 100 planes pending the outcome of the investigation.

Ditrikh was quoted by state media as saying the families of those who died would receive compensation of 9 million rubles each ($135,000).

Operated by national airline Aeroflot, the flight took off from Sheremetyevo and was heading for the northern city of Murmansk, carrying 73 passengers and five crew members when it was forced to turn around.

Video showed the plane making a hard landing at Sheremetyevo about 45 minutes after taking off. The video shows the plane bouncing, then speeding along a runway, with flames and black smoke pouring from its fuselage.

Aeroflot said the plane's engines caught fire on the runway of the airport after making an emergency landing -- not in midair as initially reported.

The plane's manufacturer said the aircraft had received maintenance last month. The pilot had some 1,400 hours of experience flying the plane, according to Aeroflot.

In an audio recording posted by Russian media, a man identified as the pilot, Denis Yevdokimov, said the plane was struck by lightning, causing problems with systems on board and interrupting communications with the ground.

Passengers were also quoted as saying that the jet was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm. Storms were passing through the Moscow area at the time.

Aeroflot has long shed its troubled post-Soviet safety record, with its fleet relying mainly on Boeing and Airbus aircraft. However, the state-owned company also owns at least 50 Superjets that it operates on both domestic and international routes.

Manufactured by the state conglomerate United Aircraft Corporation, the Superjet is a midrange regional jet, conceived of as a way to help bolster the country’s civil aviation manufacturing industry in the face of competition from Boeing and Airbus, as well as Embraer and Bombardier.

With reporting by TASS, AFP, dpa, and Interfax