The engines of the Superjet-100 that crash-landed in Moscow on May 5 were operational until touchdown despite a lightning strike. There were “peculiarities” in the actions of the pilots, a preliminary report concludes.
41 people were killed and nine others injured after a plane of Russia’s flagship carrier Aeroflot caught fire, following a botched landing attempt at Sheremetyevo International Airport.
On Friday, the Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC) issued its 104-page preliminary report on the incident, which included a minute-by-minute recreation of the tragic events. Here is what the IAC investigators have found:
15:08:09 The lightning “most likely” hits the Sukhoi Superjet-100. Damage typical of a lightning strike had been later discovered on the plane’s body.
15:08:11 Autopilot switches off and the control of the aircraft goes to ‘direct mode.’
15:08:12 Communications problems are registered on the plane. Auto pilot and radio were the only two systems affected by the lightning strike, while the engines kept working in a routine manner.
15:08:16 The crew begins manual piloting of the Superjet-100.
15:08:16 After a brief discussion with the crew, the commander makes a decision to return to the airport and orders the co-pilot to send a PAN-PAN urgency signal.
15:09:35 Radio communications with air traffic controls at Sheremetyevo Airport are restored on the emergency frequency.
15:09:39 The co-pilot relays the request to return to the airport to the flight controller and tells him of the complications aboard. The controller instructs the Superjet-100 crew to start reducing altitude and the plane begins its descent. The controller then asks if “any help is needed?” The crew replies: “No, so far it’s fine, all in routine mode.”
15:23:03 The co-pilot informs air traffic control that the plane is ready for landing.
15:27:51 The dispatcher relays data on meteorological conditions to the crew and gives the go-ahead for the landing to be carried out.
15:28:26 The “WINDSHEAR WARNING” alarm signal, which instructs the plane to perform a go-around flight maneuver, goes off in the cabin, but the pilots pay no attention to it and continue to descend. It’s an acceptable move if the crew rules that there’s no danger.
The Superjet-100 is 1,600 kilograms heavier than the maximum landing weight and approaches the runway at too high a speed. The proper descent rate for the conditions that obtained at Sheremetyevo at that moment was 155 kt (287 km/h), but when the aircraft was five meters above ground it had a speed of 170 kt (315 km/h).
15:30:00 The plane’s chassis connects with the runway and it makes two bounces off the asphalt. After the second bounce, which sends the aircraft five or six meters into the air, the co-pilot makes an attempt to perform a go-around maneuver, but it fails.
15:30:05 The Super jet hits the runway for the third time, with the impact breaking the already damaged main landing gear. The further destruction of the plane’s body, with fuel spill and fire is happening. The data on the flight recorders shows a possible loss of control of the engines.
15:30:18 The aircraft systems report smoke in the back baggage/cargo compartment, as the plane slides along the runway at the speed of 185 km/h.
15:30:24 Air traffic control sends the emergency services to the runway to aid the burning plane’s passengers.
15:30:38 The Superjet makes a left turn and stops.
15:30:49 The stewards command the passengers: “Unfasten your seatbelts; leave your belongings; approach the exits…”
15:30:52 The captain gives the “evacuation” order.
15:31:34 The engines of the burning plane stall.
The IAC experts have stopped short of blaming the pilots for the failed landing, only saying that there were “peculiarities” in their piloting. Additional experiments will be carried out to give a proper evaluation of their actions. The report mentions that the commander received an excellent mark in an exam testing how he flew a plane manually.
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