Six-year-old Olivia cries at Jakarta airport as she awaits information about her father who was aboard the Sukhoi Superjet 100 that crashed on the side of an Indonesian mountain. (AFP)
Moscow, May 10: The wreckage of the first new passenger airliner to be produced in Russia since the end of the Soviet Union was found on the side of an Indonesian mountain volcano shrouded in mist, dealing a crushing blow to a national aerospace industry eager for revival.
There were no signs of survivors among the 50 people, including crew, journalists and airline representatives, aboard the demonstration plane, the Sukhoi Superjet 100, an official said.
Yesterday, the plane disappeared from radar screens and lost contact with ground controllers about 20 minutes later after requesting permission to descend to 6,000 feet from 10,000 feet over the mountainous terrain of West Java.
It was not clear why the Russian pilot and co-pilot asked to descend or if they got the go-ahead. Communication between the pilots and air traffic control are being reviewed but the tapes will not be made public immediately.
While it is rare for such a young aircraft to crash, it is not unprecedented — an Airbus 320 crashed during a demonstration flight in 1988, killing three people and injuring 50. Investigators determined that the cause had been pilot error and found no evidence of a malfunction. The A320 went on to be one of the world’s best-selling aircraft models. The Superjet carried much of Russia’s hope for reinvigorating an industry with a storied history of accomplishment. Its loss will deepen the malaise in an industry whose safety problems, breakdowns and lethal crashes have made it hard to sell planes outside the former Soviet Union, Iran, Cuba and parts of Africa.
It also casts a pall over a week of celebrations of Vladimir V. Putin’s third inauguration as president. The loss occurred just as Russia’s leaders were overseeing the lavish yearly display of military might to commemorate Victory Day, the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.
The Superjet 100 was produced by the government-controlled Sukhoi company, which is far better known for its fighter planes. Senior officials from Russia’s trade ministry and aviation safety agency and Sukhoi’s top managers left Moscow for Indonesia yesterday afternoon, the company announced.
“They have to clear this up very, very fast in terms of causes,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at the Teal Group consultancy in Fairfax, Virginia.
“This plane had given the Russians hope that they could resurrect some of what they once had.” At $31.7 million, the Superjet’s price was one-third cheaper than comparable short-hop jets produced in Canada. Last week, Sukhoi began a six-nation road show of presentations to Asian airline executives and had already made stops in Myanmar, Pakistan and Kazakhstan.
New York Times News Service