Russian Plane Crash: Black Box Too Wet to Use

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on September 09 2011 9:37 AM
Russian Plane Crash
A rescue diver works next to the wreckage of the plane that crashed near the Russian city of Yaroslavl, Sept. 8, 2011. A passenger plane carrying a Russian ice hockey team to a season-opening match crashed after takeoff from a provincial airport on Wednesday, killing 43 people and plunging the Russian and international sports world into grief. Reuters

Russian investigators have recovered the black box data recordings from the cockpit of a plane carrying a top ice hockey team that crashed earlier this week, killing 43 people and leaving two others critically injured.

But the tapes are too water-logged to be deciphered at this point. Authorities are drying out the magnetic recordings, the Interstate Aviation Committee said Friday.

The Yak-42 jet carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team crashed onto the banks of the Volga River shortly after takeoff. Two passengers survived the crash, including one hockey player and a flight crew member. Both were in critical condition Friday.

Officials believe they know what happened on Wednesday, but the recorders would provide invaluable insight into the final minutes of the flight.

Russian authorities said the Yak-42 was unable to gain altitude and hit a signal tower shortly after taking off from Tunoshna airport, but recovering the tapes would help investigators piece together why the plane wouldn't rise.

Tunoshna has resumed normal operations. However, planes leaving the airport aren't being allowed to use locally purchased fuel, for fear that contaminated gasoline played a role in the accident.

The crash is the latest in Russia, where old, Soviet-era jets make up most of the fleet.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev demanded Thursday radical reforms in the country's private airline industry, and some speculate that the Yak-42 could be retired. Medvedev added that he thinks Russia needs to reduce the number of domestic airline companies as well as replace the current fleet with updated, foreign-made planes.

The Yak-42 used by Lokomotiv Yaroslavl was built in 1993, and had been last serviced about a month ago, according to Agence France Presse.  The Yak-42 model was first introduced in 1980 and was discontinued in 2002.

Medvedev has already ordered the Antonov An-24s to be retired. The last An-24 was built in 1979, and they still fly.

Wednesday's crash was the third major accident of the summer. In June, a RusAir Tupolev-134 jet went down near Besovets Airport in northeastern Russia, killing 47 people. It was the eighth crash of a Tupolev-134 in the past nine years, and many of the planes were originally built in the 1970s.

In May, an Antonov An-148 crashed en route to Burma, killing six.

In July, a passenger cruise-ship sailing on the Volga River sank, killing more than 100 Russian holiday-makers. It was discovered that the vessel, named the Bulgaria, was under-inspected. The Bulgaria was built in 1955 and hadn't been renovated for three decades; it still had all Soviet-era parts.

According to the information we have today, the vessel was in poor condition, Medvedev told senior ministers in Moscow at the time. The number of old rust tubs which we have sailing is exorbitant.

Russian river fleet regulator Yakov Ivashov and Svetlana Inyakina, general director of Argorechtur, the cruise company, were arrested for negligence over the tragedy and could face up to 10 years in prison.

I have ordered to set up a state commission headed by the Transport Minister Igor Levitin for a probe into the Tatarstan [region] tragedy, Medvedev said a day after the accident.

It was obviously caused by safety violations, a poor condition of the vessel plus the weather. We should find out why the shipowner let it sail. I also want a thorough inspection of all tourist ships.

According to Russia's Transportation Ministry, about six percent of operating vessels in Russia are as old or older than the Bulgaria, meaning that more than 100 of the registered 1,500 passenger boats are older than 56 years. That figure doesn't account for unregistered boats.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when previously state-owned utilities and assets could be bought on the cheap, privately-owned Russian businesses have sacrificed safety for profit. And the relative lack of safety checks and regulations has made the practice all too easy.

 

 

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