Sixty-two killed in plane crash in Russia
High winds caused tough conditions at airport
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.”
Russian Emergency Ministry employees investigate the wreckage of a crashed plane at the Rostov- on-Don airport.
A relative of a victim sobs as he is comforted by other relatives at the
airport after the crash of the FlyDubai plane Saturday.