Tuesday 23 January 2018

No survivors as jet crashes in Russia leaving 62 dead

Cypriot pilot of FlyDubai jet was about to quit airline, had been offered new job with Ryanair

TRAGEDY: Investigators examine the wreckage
TRAGEDY: Investigators examine the wreckage

Vladimir Isachkov

A Dubai airliner with 62 people on board nosedived and exploded in a giant fireball early yesterday while trying to land in strong winds in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, killing all aboard, officials said.

Several planes had trouble landing at the airport at the time of the crash, with one trying to land three times before giving up and diverting to another airport.

Russia's Emergencies Ministry said the Boeing 737-800 operated by FlyDubai was carrying 55 passengers, most of them Russians, and seven crew members. FlyDubai confirmed there were no survivors and said four children were among those killed.

It was FlyDubai's first crash since the budget carrier began operating in 2009. Its fleet consists of mint 737-800 aircraft like the one that crashed.

Closed-circuit TV footage showed the plane going down in a steep angle and exploding. The powerful explosion left a big crater in the runway and pulverised the plane, but investigators quickly recovered both flight recorders. The cause of the crash wasn't immediately known, but experts pointed at a sudden gust of wind as a possible reason.

"By all appearances, the cause of the air crash was the strongly gusting wind, approaching a hurricane level," said Rostov regional governor Vasily Golubev.

According to weather data, when the FlyDubai plane first tried to land, winds at ground level weren't dangerously strong, but at an altitude of 1,640ft and higher they reached a near-hurricane speed of 67 miles per hour.

Later, when the plane crashed, winds near the surface reached 49 miles per hour and could have been even stronger at altitude.

Several planes had landed in Rostov-on-Don shortly before the Dubai jet was scheduled to touch down, but other flights later were diverted.

Ian Petchenik, a spokesman for the flight-tracking website Flightradar24, said the FlyDubai plane missed its approach, then entered a holding pattern, circling for about two hours before making another landing attempt. It said a Russian Aeroflot plane scheduled to land around the same time made three landing attempts but diverted to another airport.

Flightrader24's data indicated that the Dubai plane began climbing again after a go-around when it suddenly started to fall with vertical speed of 21,000ft per minute.

"It was an uncontrollable fall," said Sergei Kruglikov, a veteran Russian pilot. He added that a sudden change in wind speed and direction could have caused the wings to abruptly lose lifting power.

He said the pilots would have understood seconds before the crash that they were going to die, but "passengers and the cabin crew likely didn't realise they were facing imminent death".

FlyDubai CEO Ghaith al-Ghaith said the plane attempted to land in line with established procedures. He added that the pilots hadn't issued any distress call.

"As far as we know, the airport was open and we were good to operate," he said, adding that the plane couldn't have landed without air traffic controllers' permission.

"Our primary concern is for the families of the passengers and crew who were on board. Everyone at FlyDubai is in deep shock and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those involved," he added.

It emerged last night that the Cypriot pilot of the jet was going to quit the airline after recently accepting a job with Ryanair in Cyprus.

A long-time friend yesterday said that pilot Aristos Socratous, whose wife will give birth to the couple's first child in a few weeks, wanted to raise his family in Cyprus despite a drop in his wages.

"The loss of income doesn't compare with being close to your family in your home country," the friend said.

The two pilots of the jet had 5,965 and 5,769 hours of flying time respectively, making them "quite experienced". The plane was built in 2011 and underwent a detailed inspection in January, he added.

President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to the victims' families and top Russian Cabinet officials flew to the crash site to oversee the investigation.

Sunday Independent

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