December 18, 2012 4:33 pm

Pilot error blamed for Sukhoi plane crash

The crash of a prototype Russian airliner in Indonesia seven months ago was caused by pilot error, the country’s National Commission on Safety Transportation announced on Tuesday.

The Sukhoi Superjet 100 crashed into a mountainside during a test flight intended to help market the plane, killing all 45 on board. The tragedy was seen as a huge setback for Russia’s attempts to enter the global civilian aviation market with the new plane, a short and medium range jetliner.

Indonesian authorities had indicated that the plane functioned adequately and there were no malfunctions of safety gear in the lead-up to the crash. Last month, Indonesia certified the Russian Superjet 100 as safe to fly in the country after a thorough validation process unrelated to the crash investigation. This opened the lines for delivery of the aircraft to customers in Indonesia.

An analysis of the cockpit voice recorder of the Superjet showed the pilot in command was chatting with a potential buyer in the cockpit just before the plane slammed into Mount Salak on May 9, commission chairman Tatang Kurniadi told reporters.

He said that 38 seconds before the crash, instruments inside the cockpit issued a warning saying “pull up, terrain ahead”. Later the warning “avoid terrain” was issued six times, but the instruments were turned off because the crew assumed there was a problem with the database, Mr Kurniadi said. He added that a simulation showed that the crash could have been avoided had the crew responded within 24 seconds of the first warning.

“The crew was not aware of the mountainous area surrounding the flight path,” Mr Kurniadi said.

The Jakarta radar service was also not equipped with a system in the area where the crash occurred that was capable of informing flight crews of minimum safe altitudes, he said.

Russian pilot Alexander Yablontsev was in charge of the demonstration flight, which was meant to woo potential buyers. He was an experienced test pilot, logging 10,000 hours in the Sukhoi Superjet and its prototypes.

Six minutes after it took off from a Jakarta airfield, the pilot and co-pilot asked air traffic control for permission to drop from 3,000 meters to 1,800 meters on the scheduled half-hour flight.

“The purpose of decreasing the altitude was to make it not too high for the landing process at Halim airport,” Mr Kurniadi said.

However, six minutes later, the plane hit the mountain, he said.

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