Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

FlyDubai crashes in Russia

All 62 people on board were killed when a FlyDubai plane crashed this week in Russia, reports Stefan Weichert

Al-Ahram Weekly

On its second attempt to land at the Rostov-on-Don airport in Russia on Saturday, a FlyDubai plane, a Boeing 737-800, crashed, killing all 62 people on board. Forty-four of the 55 passengers were Russian, eight were Ukrainian, two Indian and one Uzbekistani; four children were among the dead.

While the plane crash was the second time in less than six months that a passenger jet with Russians on board has crashed, the FlyDubai crash is being seen as due to an accident and not the result of terrorism. In October 2015, a Metrojet A321 plane flying from Sharm El-Sheikh crashed in Sinai on its way to Russia following an explosion, killing 224, in an attack that both Russia and Egypt have linked to the Islamic State (IS) terror group.

Flight FZ981 crashed about 250 metres from a runway after aborting a scheduled landing. The plane had circled the airport for more than two hours because of poor weather conditions. According to Russian state media, there were strong winds and poor visibility at the time. This was also reported by the independent US-based Flight Safety Foundation, which reported wind speeds of 43 km per hour.

“The aircraft hit the ground and broke into pieces,” a Russian investigative committee statement said on its website. “There were 55 passengers aboard and seven crew members. They all died.”

The reason for the crash remains unclear, with specialists from Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee, the United Arab Emirates and France now inspecting the plane’s damaged flight recorders. However, according to a source in the emergency services speaking to Russia’s Interfax news agency, the pilot changed his mind about the landing.

“For an unknown reason, several minutes before the landing the pilot reconsidered and decided to make another circuit, but wasn’t able to,” Interfax quoted the source as saying.

FlyDubai did not respond to requests for information by Al-Ahram Weekly, but the company’s CEO, Ghaith Al-Ghaith, told reporters at a news conference that the reason for the crash could not be determined and that it was “waiting to see the results” of the investigations. The plane had passed a comprehensive inspection on January 21 this year, he said.

The Weekly also asked Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee for comment, but without success.

According to the UK newspaper The Independent, investigators are focussing on the possibility of crew error, technical failure and bad weather conditions to explain the crash, meaning that the possibility of a terrorist attack has been excluded.

Officials from the UAE Civil Aviation Authority said there was no indication of terrorism, according to the UK newspaper the Daily Telegraph. An anonymous source close to the investigation supported the claim, telling Reuters, “No one is even talking of the possibility of a terrorist attack.”

“Nothing points to that,” Sergei Melnichenko, head of an aviation safety consultancy in Moscow, told Reuters. “But nothing can be fully ruled out until a complete decryption of the flight recorders has been made.”

One of the plane’s wings hit the ground on its second attempt to land and burst into flames, according to a statement from officials in the Rostov region. According to several Russian news agencies quoting the emergency services, however, the plane fell vertically and hit the ground nose down.

There has also been speculation as to why the pilot and copilot, both of whom, according to FlyDubai, had more than 5,000 hours of training, did not try to land at another airport.

“The plane had been circling over the airport of Rostov-on-Don for two hours before a landing attempt, so it is likely that a technical failure could have prevented it from diverting to an alternate aerodrome,” Alexei Gavrilenko, a pilot of Boeing 777 aircraft, told the news outlet Russian Direct.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a statement on the Kremlin’s website, “The main thing is to work with the families and the loved ones of those who have died.”

Russia declared Sunday to be a “day of mourning” in the Rostov region, located in the southern part of Russia east of Ukraine. FlyDubai told reporters that the company will provide “hardship payments” of nearly $20,000 per passenger “with the aim of addressing immediate financial needs” as a result of the crash.

The UAE news outlet The National commented that “such hardship payments often come with a written undertaking that the passenger’s families will not pursue litigation against the airline.”

FlyDubai is a low-cost carrier with a formerly excellent safety record that started flying in 2009. It has 50 aircraft and is one of the biggest companies in the region. It flies the route from Dubai to Rostov-on-Don twice a week.

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