Doomed pilots may have had brake on at takeoff

Investigators are examining the possibility that the pilots of the doomed Yak-42 airliner took off with a parking brake on, according to a newspaper report. The deadly flight killed 44 people, including most of the Lokomotiv hockey team.

­While there is still no official word on why the crash occurred, there is growing media speculation about the reasons behind the tragedy.

Citing its own source, the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper reported on Wednesday that it may have been a ‘banal error’ that caused the Yak-42 crash.

"It looks like the tragedy was caused by a ‘banal error’ by the pilots, which motorists call 'the blonde's mistake'. They may have forgotten to release the parking brake,” the newspaper quoted a source close to the investigation as saying.

"The commission investigating the crash has established that the plane started its takeoff run with the parking brake set,” he added. “The engine is powerful enough to get the plane moving along the runway, but the aircraft cannot pick up the takeoff speed."

According to the source, data from flight recorders shows that before takeoff the captain, Andrey Solomentsev, asked co-pilot Igor Zhevelov to take over the steering as he was feeling unwell. As it is the commander’s duty to release the parking brake, the pilots may have forgotten to do so in the swap. 

Test pilot Sergey Knyshov gave the following comments to the newspaper: “Nowadays, the qualification of co-pilots leaves much to be desired,” he said. “And if a captain suddenly feels bad, he has no choice, even if he knows he can’t rely on his co-pilot. It is nearly similar to a suicide. Russian pilots have no right to get sick. In other countries, a pilot has a right to refuse to fly three times a year without giving any reason. But in Russia it is – get some pills and move on – that’s it.”

Distinguished test pilot Magomed Tolboyev told Interfax news agency that the unreleased parking brake theory is quite feasible, adding that traces on the runway could lend weight to the notion. “Imagine, the wheels are braked and three engines are working at a maximum, and the plane weighs 40 tons,” he said. “So, there must be a trace, if the parking brake was on.”

­Pilots’ professional history under scrutiny  

­According to the LifeNews web tabloid, investigators are currently looking into the professional history of the pilots at the helm of the doomed Yak-42 plane.

The tabloid said that the Federal Agency of Air Transport and the Interstate Aviation Committee are inclined to conclude that insufficient flight experience on the part of the pilots was probably behind the crash. 

“We are investigating the possibility of a pilot error of the crew. The lack of experience on this type of aircraft could possibly be the cause of the tragedy,” the tabloid quotes a source among the investigators as saying.

The captain had around 1,400 hours of flight experience instead of the minimum 8,000 – 10,000 needed.

The co-pilot had only recently cross-trained for this type of aircraft from a smaller Yak-40 and had only around 400 hours of flight experience.

This is “catastrophically low to fly passengers,” the tabloid quoted a test pilot, Vadim Bazykin, as stating. ”The company owner did not have the right to let the captain fly the passengers.”

An earlier list of possible reasons for the deadly plane crash included low-quality fuel, engine failure and technical malfunction.  All have now been ruled out. 

The Yakovlev Yak-42 airliner crashed on the banks of the Volga River on September 7, taking the lives of 44 people.