Aeroflot probed after Perm plane crash

The Prosecutor General's Office has ordered an inquiry into Aeroflot's compliance with safety regulations following Sunday’s plane crash which killed 88 people. Checks were also ordered at the Federal Air Transportation

A group of U.S. experts have arrived at the crash site in Perm to help find out why a Boeing 737 from Moscow crashed as it was preparing to land.

'Pilot behaving unusually'

The plane is reported to have exploded before hitting the ground, with debris scattering over a vast area.

The last person to speak to the pilot of the plane was the air traffic controller at Perm airport, Irak Bikbov.

Speaking to local media, he gave this account of the last minutes of Flight 821:

“The pilot was behaving in an unusual manner. He wasn't following my instructions. Something was happening but he didn't want to say anything or was hiding something. He contacted us and I told him that it was time to begin the landing. However, the instruments indicated the plane began to gain height. It climbed from 600 metres to 900 metres. I told him to confirm his height, which he did but added that the plane continued to descend. In reality however, the plane went up to 1,200 metres so it was too close to the runway and too high for the plane to land. I instructed the pilot to make a second attempt. The crew confirmed they received the instructions, but did not follow them. I told them to turn right, but the pilot turned left. When they were at around 600 metres, the pilot cried out and then I saw a crash somewhere over the city. I understood that they had fallen.”

Technical cause

Russia's Transport Minister, Igor Levitin, has ruled out a terrorist attack. Technical failure is seen as the most likely cause of the crash. The flight data recorders have been sent to Moscow for deciphering on Monday which is expected to take three to four weeks.

Meanwhile, Russia’s leading business newspaper, Kommersant, cited a member of the investigation committee, saying that the accident may have been caused by a fire in the right engine and an equipment malfunction.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the plane exploded after hitting the earth at an angle of approximately 30 degrees. The aircraft was torn into pieces after the plane exploded on impact.

“This is indicated by the wide distribution of aircraft wreckage,” the paper writes. “If the plane had exploded in the air, it would have fallen apart in large fragments.”

Eyewitnesses reported hearing an explosion and seeing clouds of black smoke coming from the plane.

To hear what witnesses of the crash had to say, please click here.

Tragic record

Eighty-two passengers and six crew members were killed when the plane went down near Perm in central Russia on Sunday. There were no survivors in the crash. Seven children, including a baby, were on the flight, which was operated by an Aeroflot subsidiary, Aeroflot Nord.  There were no casualties on the ground as the plane came down in wasteland near a residential area.

Most of the passengers were Russians from Perm. The jet was also carrying 21 foreigners: nine from Azerbaijan, five from Ukraine, and one each from France, Switzerland, Latvia, Italy, Germany, Turkey and the United States.

Three passengers who had bought tickets for the flight did not board the aircraft. Their connection from Barcelona was delayed, and they were forced to travel to Perm by train – this saved their lives.

Relatives were flown from Moscow to Perm on Sunday evening to help identify bodies. They had DNA tests – the only way to link them with the remains of their loved ones.

Monument to be erected

A monument to the memory of those who perished in the crash is to be erected in perm.

Authorities have begun to pay out compensation to relatives.
 
Monday was declared a day of mourning in the region, as messages of condolence poured into Russia from across the world. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and other heads of state have paid their respects to the victims' families.

In Perm, relatives and ordinary citizens joined in memorial services for those who died on Flight 821 from Moscow.

Psychological support

Two emergency centres were opened for victims’ relatives on Sunday: one at the airport in Perm, and the other at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo-1 airport.

Information hotlines were also organised shortly after the accident: +7 3422 294 98 91, +7 3422 294 99 28 and +7 342 263 11 36. Trauma support lines for relatives of victims are also available: +7 3422 245 24 24 and +7 495 626 3707.

Psychologists continue to provide support to the relatives in Perm. So far, 291 persons have turned to the specialists for help. Most of them are residents of Perm and the surrounding region but there are also people from across Russia and abroad, who arrived in the city to identify remains.

Aeroflot cuts off co-operation with subsidiary

Aeroflot Nord is a subsidiary of Aeroflot airlines – the largest air carrier in Russia. Aeroflot has the lowest accident rate in the country. Its last passenger plane crash was in 1994. Based at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, the airline operates domestic and international passenger services to 96 cities in 49 countries.

The crash is the first air tragedy to hit the company for 14 years. Aeroflot has already distanced itself from its subsidiary.

“We decided to cut off our co-operation with Aeroflot Nord. We have paid too big a price for providing our logo to the company,” said Aeroflot chairman and CEO Valery Okulov.

Plane had had no previous accidents

The plane which crashed in Perm was 16 years old. The Boeing 737-500 jet was leased to Aeroflot Nord by an Irish company and was previously operated by a Chinese air carrier without incident.

On Wednesday Aeroflot has announced it will prohibit all subsidiaries from using its name.

For more on the history of the jet,click here.