Friday 18 October 2019

We owe cabin crew our lives, say survivors of Moscow air crash fireball

Fireball: The Aeroflot SSJ-100 aircraft on fire during an emergency landing in Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. Photo: AP
Fireball: The Aeroflot SSJ-100 aircraft on fire during an emergency landing in Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. Photo: AP
Grim task: Investigators examine the charred fuselage of the plane at Moscow airport. Photo: Reuters

Alec Luhn

A 22-year-old steward who gave his life helping passengers escape was among the heroes of the Moscow plane disaster on Sunday in which 41 of the 78 people on board were killed.

Social media posts have called for the crew of the Aeroflot flight to Murmansk to be honoured for emergency landing and evacuating the plane after the Sukhoi Superjet 100 was reportedly struck by lightning just after take-off.

Dmitry Khlebnikov, a passenger seated in the 10th row, told journalists at Sheremetyevo airport that he was only alive thanks to the crew.

"The stewardesses saved me," he said. "The girls were standing near us. In the area where there was fuel, where it was dark, where the temperature was the highest, they brought people out and helped them get down the slide."

Television footage showed the Sukhoi Superjet 100 bouncing along the tarmac before the rear part of the plane suddenly burst into flames.

Many passengers on board SU 1492 then escaped via the plane's emergency slides that inflated after the hard landing.

The plane, which had been flying from Moscow to the northern Russian city of Murmansk, had been carrying 73 passengers and five crew members, Russia's aviation watchdog said.

Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman for Russia's Investigative Committee, said in a statement that only 37 out of 78 people on board had survived, meaning 41 people had lost their lives.

The Investigative Committee said it had opened an investigation and was looking into whether the pilots had breached air safety rules.

At least two children were among the dead.

Steward Maxim Moiseyev was at the rear of the plane and when he could not open the door, he began assisting passengers towards the front doors, the state news agency Tass reported. Refusing to leave while passengers were still on board, he died in the fire, it said.

After completing military academy and serving in the army, Mr Moiseyev passed a correspondence course in civil aviation. He had worked as a steward for only 15 months.

Videos inside the plane showed passengers screaming and crying as the fire spread. The investigative committee said it was considering three possible causes of the tragedy: poor training of crew and ground personnel, technical malfunction or bad weather.

One account claimed that passengers' attempts to retrieve luggage from the overhead lockers prevented others from escaping.

Denis Yevdokimov, the plane's commander, said lightning knocked out radio and electronic guidance systems, forcing pilots to fly manually.

Tatyana Kasatkina, a stewardess, said: "We took off and flew into a cloud, it was hailing heavily. At that moment there was a bang, this kind of flash, like electricity. It all happened very quickly."

The Flightradar24 tracking service showed that the plane had circled twice over Moscow before making an emergency landing after just under 30 minutes in the air.

The plane's under-carriage gave way on impact and its engines caught fire.

Interfax cited a source as saying the plane had only succeeded making an emergency landing on the second attempt and that some of the aircraft's systems had then failed.

The emergency landing was so hard that debris had found its way into the engines, sparking a fire that swiftly engulfed the rear of the fuselage, the same source said.

Russian news agencies reported that the plane had been produced in 2017 and had been serviced as recently as April this year.

By last night, more than 4,000 people had signed an online petition calling for Russia to stop flying Superjets following eight safety incidents in the past year.

But the transport minister said he saw no reason to stop Superjet flights.

Mexico's Interjet grounded 15 of its 22 Superjets this year, complaining that the plane's engine, produced by a joint venture between French and Russian companies, needed to be fixed too often.

Irish Independent

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