Pilot Error Suspected In Crash Near Perm

APA policeman looking at debris from an Aeroflot Nord jet near Perm last week.
Transportation Minister Igor Levitin said Wednesday that there were no mechanical problems with the Aeroflot Nord airliner that crashed near Perm on Sept. 14, killing all 88 people on board.

"This was not a case in which the plane should not have been allowed to fly because of a technical defect," Levitin said, adding that both of the jet's engines were in proper working order before the flight and there had been no midair explosion, Interfax reported.

His comments came a day after a source within the technical commission investigating the crash of the Boeing 737 told Kommersant that the tragedy had been the result of underqualified pilots.

Airline industry experts were quick on Wednesday to defend the skill of the country's commercial pilots in general and of the pilots of the Aeroflot Nord flight, in particular.

"Those preparing to be pilots go through multiple years of training and regularly attend advanced training courses," Yury Fedyushin, deputy head of the State Aviation Inspection Service, said Wednesday.

Aeroflot Nord, a subsidiary of state-owned Aeroflot, defended the pilots of the crashed plane.

"Those were experienced pilots," said Anton Popov, the company's spokesman, adding that the captain of the craft had logged a total of 3,689 flying hours in his career, including 1,165 in aircraft produced by Boeing.

Vladimir Gerasimov, a flight safety expert with the Russian Association of Cockpit Personnel, said the cause of the crash had to lie elsewhere.

"Pilot error couldn't have been the cause of the catastrophe," Gerasimov said. "We have to look for the cause of the accident, which could be in the conditions under which the pilots were working as well as in the mechanical condition of the jet."

He said the regulation of flight safety had deteriorated since the pilot's service within the Soviet Ministry of Civil Aviation folded after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

As a result, Gerasimov said flight safety "leaves much to be desired" in small airlines like Aeroflot Nord.

The State Aviation Inspection Service is now responsible for civilian aircraft safety.

Investigators working on the case had dismissed an earlier theory that the crash had been caused by a faulty speed-control system, Kommersant reported Wednesday. The pilots had complained about a minor malfunction in the system before the flight, the paper reported.

Calls to the spokesman for the Interstate Aviation Commission went unanswered Wednesday, while a spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor General's Office, which is also investigating the incident, refused to comment on the Kommersant report.

Aeroflot Nord's Popov dismissed all of the speculation Wednesday, saying, "The commission has not finished its investigation and thus cannot reach any conclusions."