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Did pilots’ misunderstanding turn fatal for Yak-42?

Published time: September 19, 2011 15:45
Edited time: September 19, 2011 20:31
EMERCOM emergency crews and the police work at the crash site outside Yaroslavl (RIA Novosti / Alexander Yuriev)

EMERCOM emergency crews and the police work at the crash site outside Yaroslavl (RIA Novosti / Alexander Yuriev)

Almost two weeks after the fatal Yak-42 air crash in Central Russia, media reports suggest that experts are probing whether miscommunication between the two pilots – which showed up in a transcript of a cockpit recording - caused a fatal mistake.

­Russia’s “Vesti 24” news channel published the last minute of dialog between the two pilots of the Yak-42. Journalists stressed that the transcript they obtained was not official, but experts believe the voices belong to Captain Andrey Solontsev and co-pilot Igor Zhevelov, who were in charge of the plane.

­Transcript published by “Vesti 24”:
Captain: 74, 76.
Flight engineer: 74,76.
Captain: Time, headlights, takeoff. Top speed 190.
Captain: Three, four, five, maximum continuous power.
Flight engineer: Maximum continuous power
Flight engineer: The speed is rising. Takeoff data – normal. 130, 150, 170, 190, 210.
Captain: Takeoff [power].
Flight engineer: 220, 230.
Co-pilot: Might be stabilizer.
Captain: Take off, take off stabilizer.
Co-pilot: What are you doing?
Captain: Take off.
Flight engineer: Take off
Captain: censored.
Co-pilot: Andrey!

­The transcript shows that the pilots’ actions were not coordinated.

Anatoly Knishov, honored test pilot and Hero of Russia explained to Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper: “74, 76 – engines’ indicators. The crew is getting ready to start to takeoff”.

The captain registered the speed – 190 km/h. “This is so-called ‘decision point’,” Knishov explained. “If the engines or the system fail before that point, the crew has to stop the aircraft."

“Three seconds is rated takeoff thrust mode. This mode is very rare to be used during the flight. It can be used when the plane is empty. All laden aircraft take off on takeoff power, which provides maximum power and thrust load,” Knishov said.

Six to eight seconds have passed after the takeoff started, the speed is 190 km/h and there is no additional information. “Hence, there is no system or engine failure. 210 km/h is almost the takeoff speed,” the expert explained.

At first it was maximum continuous power, but suddenly the Capitan switched it to takeoff mode. According to the expert, pilots discuss the regime on the ground. This should not be decided during takeoff.

“It was just a second left before the crash, there is nothing they can do,” the expert concluded.

On September 17, the Interstate Aviation Committee released new data showing that evidence of a braking force has shown up in detailed examinations of the aircraft’s take-off run. Its nature, however, remains unknown.

It was established that the plane advanced for about 400 meters along the runway. When the aircraft started to take off it failed to gain sufficient height, achieving an altitude of only 5-6m (16-20ft) before tilting left, hitting trees and finally crashing to the ground.

MAK stated that the Yak-42 pilots had checked all the flight controls, including the elevator which deflected cleanly to a pitch-up position of 21°. The last check was carried out one minute and 40 seconds before the take-off. The aircraft, however, failed to lift off.

Experts will use virtual and even live simulations of the Yak-42 air crash to help investigators discover the causes of the tragedy. The “live” simulation of the flight leading to the plane crash will take place at the Gromov Flight Research Institute.

The Yak-42 crash near the city of Yaroslavl claimed the lives of 44 out of 45 onboard, including the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslav hockey team, one of Russia's best ice hockey clubs. The sole survivor – crew member Aleksandr Sizov – remains in a stable condition in hospital.

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