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Russian Investigators Say Superjet Crash Caused By Lightning

The Aeroflot Sukhoi Superjet-100 is taken off a runway after a crash landing at Sheremetyevo International Airport on May 6.
The Aeroflot Sukhoi Superjet-100 is taken off a runway after a crash landing at Sheremetyevo International Airport on May 6.

Russian aviation investigators have blamed last month's crash of a Sukhoi Superjet 100, which killed 41 people, on lightning that disabled its autopilot system and caused the plane to descend too quickly.

The report by the Interstate Aviation Committee, released on June 14, did not blame the pilots for the mishap, which took place on May 5 at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.

Nor did it address initial speculation that some passengers fleeing the burning jet tried to bring their hand luggage with them, delaying the evacuation.

The crash of flight SU1492, operated by national airline Aeroflot, raised new questions about the reliability of the Superjet, a midrange jet designed to help bolster Russia's civil aviation industry.

It was the second fatal accident involving the Superjet since it was put into service eight years ago.

The flight departed from Sheremetyevo, heading for the northern city of Murmansk and carrying 73 passengers and five crew members when it was forced to turn around.

Video showed the plane appearing to make a hard landing at Sheremetyevo, bouncing, then speeding along a runway, with flames and black smoke pouring from its fuselage.

Russian Inspectors Probe Plane's Wreckage After Deadly Fire
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Some passengers and crew managed to escape using emergency chutes, but others remained trapped inside as fire crews tried to smother the flames.

In all, 41 people were killed. About a dozen others required medical treatment, many for smoke inhalation.

The investigators' report also said that the pilots went ahead with the landing despite an automatic system advising them to make a second approach.

In the Russian aviation industry, reports by the Interstate Aviation Committee are the primary, but not necessarily final word on plane crashes.

Criminal investigators are also looking at the crash for potential flight-safety violations and breaches in aircraft operation. And the federal Investigative Committee has said it is looking at other possible factors, including pilot error, technical failure, or unfavorable weather conditions.

Aeroflot has long shed its troubled post-Soviet safety record, with its fleet relying mainly on Boeing and Airbus aircraft.

However, the company 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.

Since first entering service in 2011, it has been hit by sporadic concerns over safety and reliability, including a December 2016 grounding after a defect was discovered in an aircraft's tail section.

In 2012, a Superjet being flown on a demonstration flight in Indonesia crashed into a mountain, killing all 45 people on board.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.