Of the 203 passengers on board - 127 are dead, 66 injured, and 20 of the survivors are in critical condition. This is the aftermath of the A-310 plane crash in Siberian city of Irkutsk. According to the government officials, families of the victims will receive $3,000 compensation: 50% paid by Siberian Airlines, 12% by the airline's insurance company, 15% from the city of Irkutsk, and the rest from the federal government. Sadly, that is all the parents of dozens of schoolchildren killed in the crash will likely ever receive. The kids were on their way to summer camp at Lake Baikal.
The only two possible explanations for this tragedy are 1) pilot error or 2) equipment malfunctioning. The pilots on this flight had an excellent record, they had logged over 20,000 hours of flying without incident in their careers. Even though the runway was wet after light rains, it seems unlikely that both skilled pilots would have lost control of the airplane due to the wet conditions.
One of the most unsettling details about this accident is the fact that the Airbus A-310 needs 3,100 meters of runway for a safe landing (1 meter roughly equals to 3 feet). The Irkutsk runway had been 2,700 meters and previously was unavailable for the A-310 aircraft. In 2003 the runway was extended to 3,100 meters, which allowed for the Airbuses to land there. International aviation safety regulations suggest having an extra 400-500 meters of runway for emergency situations, but this precaution was ignored by the city of Irkutsk. The gravel road at the end of the runway was only 50 meters long, and was immediately followed by a series of private buildings used as garages and storage units.
President Putin has ordered an aviation safety commision to look into every detail of the accident. Even though those 500 extra meters were unnecessary, the commission will research if extra length and empty space, rather than private storages, would have allowed the pilots to belly in the airplane, sparing the lives of 127 passengers, most of whom were children.
The primary reason for the Irkutsk crash could be a mechanical failure. A-310s are equipped with multiple "brake" systems. There are two sets of air-breaks (flaps), so if the first set fails, the secondary automatically deploys to slow the aircraft. Then there are the jet engines, which the pilots use to push air in reverse to slow the plane. Some pilots prefer reversing the airflow two seconds before landing while still 3-6 feet above the ground. Other pilots prefer to use reverse thrust once a plane is already wheels down. Also, there are the wheel breaks in the landing gear. Thus even if one of the tires blew out or the wheel brakes failed, the engines and flaps should have saved the aircraft in the hands of skilled pilots. Some survivors say that they felt the plane speeding up while trying to land, which means that the engines could have been working against the pilots' will.
Airbus said the plane was built in 1987 and had flown more than 10,000 flights. Airbus has dispatched a small army of its own investigators and technicians to Irkutsk. This is the second crash of an Airbus plane this year in the former Soviet Union. An Airbus A-320, operated by Armavia Airlines, came down in stormy weather off Russia's Black Sea coast on May 3 with the loss of all 113 passengers and crew on board, according to RIA Novosti The results of the investigation have not shown any flaws in the airframe, however, and investigators have not proven any pilot error resulting in the crash, so the investigation remains open.
In this light of events, RussiaBlog thinks that Aeroflot might reconsider its earlier decision regarding purchasing Airbuses versus Boeing's Dreamliners. Two crashes in one quarter and Airbus' inability to meet the manufacturing obligations on time might flip the coin again in American favor.
The White House spokesman Sean McCormack said in official statement that "the United States expresses its
sympathy to the families of the victims and survivors of the Sunday crash. American hearts are with the Russian nation."
UPDATE: MosNews has a story on Viktoria Zilberstein, the heroic flight attendant who saved many passengers' lives and is now undergoing medical treatment in Moscow.