Thursday, May 10, 2012

Indonesia: New Russian Airliner Filled With Promise Crashes into Volcano

The Sukhoi Superjet 100, Russia's first new model of passenger jet since the fall of the Soviet Union, in Indonesia on a six-nation tour of Asia aimed at drumming up new customers, crashed into a volcano at full speed on Wednesday (May 9), killing all 45 people aboard.

Due to the remoteness of the crash site and the rugged terrain,  the recovery operation will be slow process. To make matters worse, bad weather has delayed recovery until tomorrow (May 11).

The aircraft was carrying dozens of representatives from local airlines, as well as journalists on what was planned to be a quick, 50-minute demo flight. 

Yet, just 21 minutes into the flight, after taking off from Jakarta, the Russian pilot and co-pilot asked for permission to drop from 10,000 feet to 6,000 feet (3,000 meters to 1,800 meters), but gave no explanation for their elevation change request, particularly given the proximity of a 7,000-foot (2,200-meter) volcano. 

Minutes later, the new jet smashed into the jagged ridge on top of Mount Salak, a long-dormant volcano at speeds of 480 miles per hour (800 kilometers per hour).

COMMENT: It is possible that the aircrew did not await approval from air traffic control to make the elevation change. The 75-to-95-place commuter aircraft has been promoted as a competitor to similar-sized aircraft from Canada's Bombardier Inc. and Brazil's Embraer SA.

For those of our readers who may not be aware, Russian manufactured aircraft have a dismal safety record worldwide. This also applies to Russian pilots. Worse, air disasters in Indonesia occur far too often. Presumably, aviation investigators will be focusing on two areas of causation: design flaws in the Sukhoi, or pilot error.

It should be noted that the six-nation sales effort was not the first time the new jet had flown. It actually made its  inaugural commercial flight last year.

Most of the passengers were either prospective buyers or Russian citizens, although an American consultant with a local airline and a French citizen with aircraft engine-maker Snecma were among those on the flight.