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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Il-86 Probe Focuses on Stabilizer Malfunction

Investigators looking into the Pulkovo Airlines Il-86 crash that killed 14 crew said Monday they were focusing on a possible malfunction of its horizontal stabilizer that spontaneously shifted to an extreme angle, leading to the jet's plunge into woods just after takeoff.

Valery Chernyayev, head of the field investigation department of the Interstate Aviation Committee, said the stabilizer spontaneously shifted two seconds after takeoff. Six seconds after the shift, the plane's commander tried to compensate by thrusting the control stick forward as far as possible, "which was not successful," Chernyayev said.

The horizontal stabilizer, located on a plane's tail, controls the pitch of the aircraft's nose in flight. A sudden ascent at too steep an angle could cause an aircraft to stall, meaning it loses the lift on its wings.

As a result of the investigation, Chernyayev said it was likely that all Il-86 planes in service would have their horizontal stabilizers checked out. President Vladimir Putin and other top officials use the Il-86.

Authorities on Monday were examining flight data and an audio recording from the cockpit of the crashed jet, which had been heading Sunday afternoon from Sheremetyevo Airport to St. Petersburg with 16 crew aboard. Two flight attendants survived the crash of the plane.

No conversations from the cockpit were picked up by the voice recorder, and analysis was continuing on the data recorders -- with the final results expected in two weeks, Interfax reported, citing Interstate Aviation Committee officials.

The description of the stabilizer problem squares with accounts given by eyewitnesses to the Sunday accident. One man who witnessed the crash told TVS television that the plane traveled with its nose almost straight up for 15 to 20 seconds before it became horizontal again and then crashed.

An earlier report in Kommersant said investigators suspected the pilots may have brought the plane's nose up too sharply on takeoff, straining its engines and losing control.

The four cockpit crew, two technicians and eight flight attendants were killed, officials said. The remains of 14 victims were found in the charred wreckage, but their condition made identification difficult.

The front of the plane was a blackened wreck, but two flight attendants who were in the tail section survived. One of the flight attendants, Arina Vinogradova, 34, survived the crash with only an injured hand and bruises.

She told TVS television that after the crash, she was stuck in her seat belt between plane seats as smoke surrounded her. She tried to breathe through the seat fabric and signaled for help by banging her rings on the plane -- hitting them so hard that they were flattened.

"I wanted to live, I didn't want to be burned alive," she said. "I wanted my 4-year-old daughter to live with her mother."

The other injured flight attendant was in serious but stable condition with head injuries and expected to live, hospital officials said.

Pulkovo spokesman Konstantin Tarasevich said the plane was built in 1983 and had flown for a total of about 18,300 hours, which he said was a relatively small amount.

The Il-86 had never before had a fatal accident in its nearly 30 years of service.