MOSCOW (AP) — A preliminary probe into last month’s crash of a Russian passenger jet that left 41 dead has found the plane was going at an excessive speed when it made an emergency landing.
The report released Friday by the Moscow-based Interstate Aviation Committee that investigates crashes in Russia and other ex-Soviet nations said that the Sukhoi SSJ100 had a speed of 315 kph (196 mph) just before touchdown instead of the required 287 kph (178 mph).
The plane that belonged to the Russian flagship carrier Aeroflot was struck by lightning shortly after it had taken off from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on May 5 and was landing heavy with unburned fuel when it made a rough touchdown, igniting a fire that killed 41 of the 78 people aboard.
The lightning strike knocked out the plane’s autopilot, forcing the pilots to go manual. The crew also had communications problems, its request for permission to circle the airport to burn excessive fuel before landing left unheard by traffic controllers.
Landing with excessive weight and higher than normal speed, the plane touched down hard, jumping up twice, breaking its landing gear and setting its fuel tanks ablaze. Most of those who died were in the rear section of the plane, which was instantly engulfed by flames.
The committee stopped short of directly blaming the pilots for the crash, saying additional investigation is needed to judge the crew’s action.
The crash hurt Aeroflot’s image and also raised doubts about the safety of the SSJ100 that entered service a few years ago and was touted as a state-of-the-art design.
Minister for Trade and Industries Denis Manturov emphasized Friday that the preliminary crash report confirmed that all plane systems operated normally, the autopilot incapacitated by lightning being the sole exception.