Passengers and crew dead following plane crash outside of Moscow, Russia

Photo courtesy of wsoctv.com.

By Sunya Hassan || Layout Assistant

On February 11th, a Saratov Airlines flight crashed about 25 miles from Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport. The Antonov An-148 aircraft held 65 passengers and 5 crew members on board, all of whom died during the crash. The plane was headed to a Russian city called Orsk, near the border of Kazakhstan, but it disappeared off the radar shortly after takeoff. The An-148 went down in Ramenskoye District, in the Moscow region. CNN’s Matthew Chance reported from Moscow that “The snow is very dense…the Moscow region has had some of its heaviest snowfall in decades. It’s not clear at this stage whether weather was a factor in this crash.”

While the official cause of the crash remains uncertain, Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC) suggested that ice and some matter of human error likely holds responsibility. The ice might have hampered the speed sensors, which is partly the pilot’s fault as they failed to turn on the heating unit for the plane’s measuring equipment. This results in flawed speed data, which caused the pilots to incorrectly speed up in order to avoid stalling, precipitating the plane’s plummet from the sky just a few minutes after taking off. In a public statement, the IAC said, “A factor in the development of a special situation in the flight could be the wrong data about flight speed on pilots’ indicators which was likely due to iced Pitot tubes (speed probes) which their heating system were shut off.” The pilots had placed the An-148 on autopilot after taking off from Domodedovo Airport but took its manual controls back when they heard alarm signals warning of conflicting speed data. Earlier reports indicated the plane’s captain had chosen not to have the plane undergo de-icing before takeoff. The crew decides whether to have the plane sprayed by de-icing liquid, depending on the weather conditions and the state of the plane. Incidents like this have happened before. Iced-over pitot tubes were cited as the likely reason for an Air France plane crash in 2009 which killed over 220 people. And another An-148 aircraft in March 2011 which killed all six crew members during a training flight.

The An-148 model itself has a rather spotty safety record with crashes and a string of major incidents in which pilots struggled to land safely. This Ukrainian-designed regional jet was first introduced in 2009. Historically, Eastern European made aircraft haven’t always matched their western counterparts in terms of safety or reliability. The jet that crashed Sunday was part of the batch of planes that GTK Rossiya had complained about several years ago, according to the Flightglobal report in 2010. Saratov Airlines has grounded other An-148s in its fleet pending the Moscow crash investigation.

According to spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin expresses his “deep condolences to all those who lost relatives and friends in this disaster.” The White House also made a statement saying that the United States “is deeply saddened by the tragic deaths. We send our condolences to the families of those who lost their loves and to the people of Russia.”

First-year Sunya Hassan is a layout assistant. Her email is shassan@fandm.edu.

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