Aeroflot plane was heavy with extra fuel before deadly crash landing

A crane lifts the damaged Sukhoi SSJ100 aircraft of Aeroflot Airlines in Sheremetyevo airport, outside Moscow on May 6, 2019. (AP Photo)
Updated 07 May 2019
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Aeroflot plane was heavy with extra fuel before deadly crash landing

  • Dumping fuel is common for flights that have to land soon after takeoff to prevent being overly heavy
  • The pilot earlier said the plane had lost radio communications because of a lightning strike

MOSCOW: A Russian airliner that took off from Moscow was airborne for just 28 minutes before returning to make an emergency landing while still heavy with unburned fuel, which then ignited after a rough touchdown.
Flames quickly engulfed the aircraft, killing 41 of the 78 people aboard.
A day after Sunday’s horrifying accident at Sheremetyevo airport, Russian news media quoted the pilot, Denis Evdokimov, as saying he followed procedures for landing with excess weight. But the crew reportedly did not dump any fuel, which is common for flights that have to land soon after takeoff to prevent being overly heavy.
The pilot said he was not certain why the plane landed hard. Video showed flames bursting from the jet’s underside as it touched down, then raging across the rear of the Sukhoi SSJ100’s fuselage within seconds as the airliner bounced down the runway.
“Everything happened right away, at lightning speed. There was a strong blow — my eyes almost popped out — a second was a little quieter, a third, and then smoke, and it started to burn immediately,” survivor Marina Sitnikova was quoted as telling the magazine Snob.
When the plane came to a halt, some of the people aboard plunged down inflatable slides deployed from the forward part of the plane.
Some of those who escaped were carrying luggage, raising concerns that grabbing their bags may have delayed an evacuation in which every second was critical.
“I do not know what to say about people who ran out with bags. God is their judge,” survivor Mikhail Savchenko wrote on Facebook.
Evdokimov said the plane had lost radio communications because of a lightning strike, but it was not clear if that precipitated the emergency landing.
A flight attendant said there was a sharp flash soon after the Aeroflot flight took off, bound for the northern city of Murmansk.
“We took off, got into a cloud, there was strong hail, and at that moment there was a pop and some kind of flash, like electricity,” flight attendant Tatiana Kasatnika said in a video posted on YouTube.
Russia’s main investigative agency said both of the plane’s flight recorders — data and voice — were recovered from the charred wreckage. Agency spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko was also quoted by Russian news agencies on Monday as saying that investigators were looking into three main possibilities behind the cause of the disaster: inexperienced pilots, equipment failure and bad weather.
Storms were passing through the Moscow area when the plane landed.
One survivor praised the plane’s attendants for helping save him and others.
“It was dark and there was gas, very high temperature. They helped people out of there, helped them to descend,” Dmity Khlebnikov said, according to Komsomolskaya Pravda.
The SSJ100, also known as the Superjet, was heralded when it went into service in 2011 as a new phase for Russia’s civil aviation industry. It was introduced as a replacement for outdated Soviet-designed aircraft.
But the plane has been troubled by concerns about defects in the horizontal stabilizers. Russia’s aviation authority in 2017 ordered inspection of all Superjets in the country because of the problems. A Mexican airline, Interjet, grounded Superjets in December 2016 and later said it was phasing them out of the fleet.
Transportation Minister Yevegny Dietrich said Monday that it was too early to decide whether to ground the planes in Russia, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the decision was not within President Vladimir Putin’s power.
One of the dead was flight attendant Maxim Moiseev, Dietrich said. Russian news reports, citing unnamed sources, said the Moiseev was in the fire-stricken back part of the plane and tried unsuccessfully to deploy an evacuation slide. The dead passengers included a recent college graduate from Santa Fe, New Mexico, was on his way to serve as a fishing guide in northwest Russia.


Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

Updated 34 min 38 sec ago
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Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

  • Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests
  • Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over

HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Hong Kong’s police and pro-Beijing leadership on Saturday, a vivid illustration of the polarization coursing through the city after weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests — as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police — sparked by a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and other countries.
The bill has since been suspended, but that has done little to quell public anger which has evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous financial hub.
Saturday’s rally was a moment for the establishment to muster their own supporters.
A predominantly older crowd was joined by families and younger residents, waving Chinese flags and holding banners supporting the police.
“Friends who used violence say they love Hong Kong too, but we absolutely cannot approve of their way of expressing themselves,” said Sunny Wong, 42, who works in insurance.
A 60-year-old woman surnamed Leung said protesters who stormed and vandalized the legislature earlier this month must be held responsible for their acts.
“I really dislike people using violence on others... it was so extreme,” Leung said.
Police estimated a turnout of 103,000 people at the peak of the rally, while local media cited organizers as saying 316,000 attended.
Hong Kong’s police are in the midst of a major reputational crisis.
With no political solution on the table from the city’s pro-Beijing leaders, the police have become enmeshed in a seemingly intractable cycle of clashes with protesters who have continued to hit the streets in huge numbers for six weeks.
Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over.
Police insist their crowd control responses have been proportionate and point to injured officers as proof that a hardcore minority of protesters mean them harm.
Some of the most violent clashes occurred last Sunday when riot police battled protesters hurling projectiles inside a luxury mall. Some 28 people were injured, including 10 officers.
There is growing frustration among the police force’s exhausted rank and file that neither the city’s leaders, nor Beijing, seem to have any idea how to end the crisis.
Chinese state media and powerful pro-Beijing groups threw their weight behind the pro-police rally.
Saturday’s edition of Hong Kong’s staunchly pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao ran a front page encouraging readers to join with the headline: “Kick away the violence.”
It featured a drawing of a large foot kicking over a pro-democracy demonstrator.
Many of those at the rally held aloft large slogans printed on the spread of Wen Wei Po, another stridently pro-Beijing newspaper in the city.
A rally last month by police supporters saw ugly scenes, with many participants hurling insults and scuffling with younger democracy protesters as well as media covering the gathering.
While the pro-government protests have mustered decent crowds, they have paled in comparison with the huge pro-democracy marches that have regularly drawn hundreds of thousands of people.
Anti-government protesters are planning another large march Sunday afternoon and say they have no plan to back down until key demands are met.
Tensions were also raised after police on Saturday said they had discovered a homemade laboratory making high-powered explosives. A 27-year-old man was arrested and pro-independence materials were also discovered.
Under the 1997 handover deal with Britain, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say that 50-year deal is already being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.
Authorities have also resisted calls for the city’s leader to be directly elected by the people.