Sixty-two killed in plane crash in Rus­sia

High winds caused tough con­di­tions at air­port

SundayXtra - - WORLD - By Jim Heintz and Vladimir Isachenkov

MOSCOW — Winds were gust­ing be­fore dawn Satur­day over the air­port in the south­ern Rus­sian city of Ros­tovon-Don when a plane car­ry­ing 62 peo­ple from a favourite Rus­sian hol­i­day desti­na­tion de­cided to abort its land­ing.

The tim­ing was tricky. Two planes had landed just a few min­utes be­fore the Fly­Dubai plane aimed to touch down. On the other hand, a Rus­sian Aeroflot plane sched­uled to land around the same time tried to come down three times then di­verted to an­other air­port, ac­cord­ing to Fligh­tradar24, an avi­a­tion web­site.

The Fly­Dubai pi­lots chose to put their Boe­ing 737- 800 into a hold­ing pat­tern, cir­cling for two hours over the city lo­cated 60 kilo­me­tres from the Ukraine bor­der. But when they did fi­nally try to land, some­thing went cat­a­stroph­i­cally wrong. Their plane plum­meted to Earth and ex­ploded in a huge fire­ball, killing ev­ery­one aboard.

Grainy video footage, ap­par­ently from a se­cu­rity cam­era near the air­port that was posted on Rus­sian web­sites, showed a plane streak­ing to­wards the ground at a steep an­gle, then ex­plod­ing. The pow­er­ful blast left a big crater in the air­port’s run­way and pul­ver­ized the plane, but in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­cov­ered both flight recorders.

The cause of the crash wasn’t im­me­di­ately known, but of­fi­cials and 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 Vasily Gol­ubev, gov­er­nor of the Ros­tov re­gion 950 kilo­me­tres south of Moscow.

Emer­gen­cies Min­is­ter Vladimir Puchkov said the recorders were be­ing flown to Moscow late Satur­day for ex­am­i­na­tion by ex­perts from Rus­sia, the United Arab Emi­rates, France and the U.S.; the U.S.-made Boe­ing had French-made en­gines.

It was Fly­Dubai’s first crash since the bud­get car­rier be­gan op­er­at­ing in 2009. The plane’s 55 pas­sen­gers, 44 of them Rus­sian, ranged in age from four to 67; eight oth­ers were from Ukraine, two were from In­dia and one from Uzbek­istan. Its crew of seven was an eth­nic mix — two Spa­niards and one per­son each from Cyprus, Colom­bia, Rus­sia, the Seychelles and Kyr­gyzs­tan.

Dubai is a pop­u­lar desti­na­tion for Rus­sian va­ca­tion­ers, and many Rus­sians work in the city. The car­rier has been fly­ing to Ros­tov- on-Don since 2013.

Ac­cord­ing to weather data re­ported by Rus­sian state tele­vi­sion, when the Fly­Dubai plane first tried to land, the winds at ground level weren’t dan­ger­ously strong, but at an al­ti­tude of 1,640 feet and higher they reached a near-hur­ri­cane speed of around 95 km/ h. Later, when the plane crashed, winds near the sur­face reached 78 km/ h and could have been even stronger at al­ti­tude.

Ian Petchenik, a spokesman for the flight-track­ing web­site Fligh­tradar24, told The As­so­ci­ated Press the Fly­Dubai plane missed its ap­proach, then en­tered a hold­ing pat­tern, cir­cling for about two hours be­fore mak­ing an­other land­ing at­tempt. Fly­Dubai CEO Ghaith al-Ghaith said the plane at­tempted to land in line with es­tab­lished pro­ce­dures. He added the pi­lots had not is­sued any dis­tress call and hadn’t at­tempted to di­vert to an al­ter­nate air­port.

Rus­sian news web­sites re­leased a record­ing of what was said to be the fi­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween the plane and air traf­fic con­trollers, in which the pi­lot re­peat­edly but calmly asks about weather con­di­tions.

Fligh­tradar24’s data in­di­cated the Dubai plane be­gan climb­ing again af­ter a go-around when it sud­denly started to fall at a ver­ti­cal speed of up to 385 km/ h.

“It was an un­con­trol­lable fall,” vet­eran Rus­sian pi­lot Sergei Krug­likov said on state tele­vi­sion. He said a sud­den change in wind speed and di­rec­tion could have caused the wings to abruptly lose their lift­ing power.

He said the pi­lots would have known sec­onds be­fore the crash that they were go­ing to die but the “pas­sen­gers and the cabin crew likely didn’t re­al­ize they were fac­ing im­mi­nent death.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rus­sian Emer­gency Min­istry em­ploy­ees in­ves­ti­gate the wreck­age of a crashed plane at the Ros­tov- on-Don air­port.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A rel­a­tive of a vic­tim sobs as he is com­forted by other rel­a­tives at the

air­port af­ter the crash of the Fly­Dubai plane Satur­day.

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