Flydubai plane crashes in Russia; 62 aboard reported dead

Posted at 9:48 AM, Mar 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-19 09:48:36-04

A passenger jet circled a southern Russian airport in high winds and poor visibility, then crashed on a second landing attempt early Saturday, killing all 62 people aboard.

The flydubai Boeing 737 jet crashed at the Rostov-on-Don airport after traveling from Dubai.

All those on board died, authorities said.

Officials believe bad weather, which kept the plane from reattempting landing for more than two hours, likely caused the crash. They ruled out terrorism as a possibility.

Russia’s investigation into the crash will take about two months, investigative committee spokeswoman Oksana Kovrizhnaya said, as reported by state-run Sputnik News.

“But [the investigation] could be prolonged because of the inspections’ duration,” Kovrizhnaya added. He said the three potential causes being considered are technical issues, severe weather and human error.

Psychologists on scene

The jet was carrying 55 passengers and seven crew members when it crashed, Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov said.

It was scheduled to land at 1:20 a.m. (6:20 p.m. ET), but went down at 3:50 a.m. (8:50 p.m. ET), he said.

The airport is closed, and medics and psychologists are on standby to assist family members, he said.

About 700 people are involved in the rescue operation, the Ministry of Emergency Situations said. The crash site is 800 feet (243 meters) from the airport runway, it said.

The plane’s pilot circled the airport, waiting for the weather to clear before making a second attempt to land, but the aircraft’s tail had clipped the runway, it said.

State media reported winds of 97 kph (60 mph) at the time of the crash.

Workers at the crash scene have both of the plane’s flight data recorders and one of two voice recorders, state-run Ria Novosti reported.

Children among victims

The United Arab Emirates-based airline said no one survived.

“Flydubai very much regrets to confirm that the accident involving flight number FZ981 at Rostov-on-Don earlier today has resulted in 55 passenger fatalities including 33 women, 18 men and four children.

“The nationalities of the deceased passengers include 44 Russians, eight Ukrainians, two Indians and one Uzbekistani,” the airline said.

Earlier, Russia’s Emergencies Ministry had said 50 of the passengers and one of the crew members were Russian citizens. It has published a list of those on board.

Flydubai has said that its primary concern was for the relatives of the victims.

“We don’t yet know all the details of the accident but we are working closely with the authorities to establish the cause. We are making every effort to care for those affected and will provide assistance to the loved ones of those on board,” flydubai CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith said.

Pilots ‘quite experienced’

Al-Gaith later told a media conference the plane’s pilots were “quite experienced,” saying the Cypriot captain had flown 5,965 hours while the Spanish co-captain had flown 5,769 hours.

“As far as I can tell, there was no distress call” he said, adding that it was too soon to confirm all the details. Regarding the aircraft’s safety record, al-Gaith said the aircraft had passed a “C-Check” on January 21.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the aircraft maintenance inspections are graded from the least detailed and most frequent “A-Check,” to the most comprehensive “D-check,” which might occur only three to six times in a plane’s service life.

Answering a question regarding the difficulty of landing, al-Gaith said “as far as we know, the airport was open and we were good to operate.”

The United Arab Emirates CIvil Aviation Authority said it was sending four investigators to Moscow to participate with the Russians in the investigation into the crash. They would be joined by teams from Boeing and the U.S.-based National Transportation and Safety Board, an official told the conference.

He said the authority had not received any official confirmation from Russia that the plane’s flight data recorders — known as black boxes — had been found.

Assistance to victims

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims, state news agency Tass reported.

Families of passengers killed will receive one million rubles (about $15,000) from the government, Russian state media reported. It said Sunday has been declared a day of mourning in the Rostov region.

Dubai’s government media office posted a statement of sympathy on Twitter.

“UAE offers its deepest condolences to the families of the victims and to the Russian government and people for the tragic accident of flydubai,” it said.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai also offered his condolences to the families.

“I offer my condolences to the families of the passengers who lost their lives on board flight FZ981. This terrible tragedy grieves us all,” the tweet read.

“We mourn those lost, may their souls rest in peace. Our thoughts are with their loved ones at this time of sorrow and grief,” a second post added.

Boeing issued a statement saying its thoughts were also with the crash victims, their families and friends. “Boeing stands ready to provide technical assistance upon the request of government agencies conducting the investigation,” it said.

Pilot disorientation?

CNN aviation expert Mary Schiavo said radar suggested the plane had flown three large, looping circles around the airport before it crashed.

“The poor visibility is probably the biggest clue,” Schiavo said. “But this runway was lighted, it had good lighting at one end and passable lighting at the other and it did have an instrument landing system.”

“With the clue of bad weather and making at least three different circles trying to reorient to this runway, it does look like pilot disorientation.”

Meantime, aviation safety analyst David Soucie agreed with the ministry’s preliminary assessment that weather was likely to blame.

“It’s not likely it was a mechanical failure,” Soucie said. “It’s most-likely a weather-related incident.”

Rostov-on-Don airport would be closed until March 20, Russia 24 quoted officials as saying.

Until then, flights were redirected to the city of Krasnodar — 141 miles south of the airport, it said.