Indonesia: Indonesian investigators blamed pilot error Tuesday for the May crash of a Sukhoi jet, post-Soviet Russia's first passenger plane, which slammed into a volcano killing all 45 on board. The flight, with a veteran pilot at the controls, was planned as a 40-minute demonstration flight to showcase the new Russian plane to prospective buyers in Indonesia, where the aviation industry is booming.
Instead, the twin-engine Sukhoi Superjet 100 crashed into the side of the 7,200-foot (2,200-metre) dormant Mount Salak on the outskirts of Jakarta, in a blow to Russia's bid to improve the image of its aviation industry. However, the National Transport Safety Committee (KNKT) absolved Sukhoi of responsibility for the crash, in a report that ruled out technical failures.
The safety board found that the aircraft's terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS) had sent multiple alerts to the pilot, who switched off the device as he assumed there was a technical problem. "The crash could have been avoided if a recovery action was carried out within 24 seconds from the first warning," KNKT chief Tatang Kurniadi told a press conference.
He also said that the pilot, Alexander Yablontsev, failed to make a crucial 180-degree change in direction, likely because a potential buyer had been in the cockpit for 38 minutes discussing the jet's fuel usage, causing a "diversion of attention". Photos of an earlier demonstration flight on the same day as the May 9 accident showed relaxed passengers smiling on board, being treated to champagne, as well as cheerful Russian and Indonesian crew members posing outside the jet.
The report said that shortly before the crash, air traffic control had cleared a request to descend to 6,000 feet in a zone where the "minimum sector altitude was 6,900 feet". But Kurniadi told AFP that although the plane was in a mountainous zone, it made the request to descend above a flat military clearing with no obstacles, in a manoeuvre considered safe.
"The plane safely descended to 6,000 feet above the military base and did an orbit, which is a 360-degree turn. It was supposed to make another 180-degree turn to go back to Jakarta, but it didn't and then crashed into the mountain," he said. The KNKT said that the plane's warning systems were working well, and that a "Landing Gear Not Down" alert was sent out seven seconds before the crash, indicating it was less than 800 feet from the ground without its wheels lowered.
However, the report also found that an altitude warning system at the Jakarta radar service was not operational for the area surrounding Mount Salak, where commercial airlines rarely venture. Russian Ambassador to Indonesia Mikhail Yurievich Galuzin welcomed the findings and said Russia had cooperated in the "objective and balanced" investigation.
"The most important thing, the essential thing of this report, is to prevent any similar tragedy from happening in the future," he said. Indonesia last month deemed the Superjet 100 technically fit for its skies, and the jet has already been certified as airworthy in Europe. The safety board's findings clear the way for the company to begin delivery of 42 aircraft to two local carriers, Kartika Airlines and Sky Aviation, with each jet priced at around $30 million.
Russia also launched its own investigation, and a fact-finding committee said soon after the crash that there were indications that safety standards were violated in the demonstration flight.