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The Investigation of Sukhoi Superjet’s Crash holds Answers to Many Questions

The Investigation of Sukhoi Superjet’s Crash holds Answers to Many Questions


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Contact photographer Egor Naumenko

Today I read an article saying that the SuperJet that crashed on a promotional flight boils down to one question: pilot or plane? I have to disagree. It is not that simple. It takes a lot of coordinating systems to get a plane in the air, and it usually takes more than one error to take a plane down.

If there is a problem with the plane, it is most likely the investigation will reveal it, and anything that comes out before the investigation is just speculation. (How much of the investigation will be made public often depends on the transparency policies of government, however.) So I am speculating here.

Russian Aviation does have a lot riding on the success of this entry into the global aviation marketplace so we know it’s not a paper airplane they folded together in ten seconds or as many months. We suspect that the quality of the teams performing the design, construction, training and troubleshooting that went into the jet’s creation is about par for contemporary jet design. Which is to say the teams are probably very good. The plane has fly-by-wire technology but Sukhoi consults with Boeing on a “step-by-step project management … fully explored and translated into business reality by SCAC.”

There are a number of problems that are coming to light with this flight.

  • Only the cockpit voice recorder was found. The FDR was not found.
  • The Emergency Locator Transmitter (which goes off, like an airbag, on hard impact) did not go off. The Sukhoi only has one(instead of two, which is the norm) Emergency Locator Transmitter which uses 121.5,203 Mhz. Indonesia receivers operate at 121.5,406 MHZ
  • The Terrain map is recorded in the panes database and shows on a display in vertical and horizontal forms. (Did this plane, which was a substitute plane) have an updated terrain map?)
  • The Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System/EGPWS should have gone off with terrain warnings after descending to 6000 feet, and these warnings should be in the black box. Wait…no black box was found.
  • Was this substitute plane compliant with all airworthiness guidelines and laws?
  • Multifunctional Transport Satellites (MTSAT) data revealed that the weather on the Salak Mountain at the time was bad. Cloud and raincover at Salak Mountain was 100 percent.
  • The Halim-Pelabuhan Ratu flight plan was considered safe, but on descent to 6000 feet, the pilot detoured from the flight plan.

Sometimes investigations take the easy path and just blame the pilot. I’ve seen happen a hundred times before, when the pilot was blamed simply because he was not longer able to defend his actions. And while pilots are only human, and sometimes do make mistakes, sometimes those mistakes are caused by corporate pressures, pressure to meet deadlines, fuel quotas, scheduling, etc. What is pressure of corporate expectations on a joy flight pilot? Do we know if he was under orders to showcase the plane’s agility, possibly even to make the very move that crashed the plane?

The pilot, 57 year old Alexander Yablontzev was experienced. He was Sukhoi’s chief test pilot and had spent more than 14 thousand hours flying. After retiring as Lieutenant Colonel from the Russian Air Force, he flew for Transaero and had a lot of hours. But the fatal flight was his first time flying in Indonesia. Did the crash occur because he was flying a strange, possibly wrongly mapped terrain, and recklessly “buzzing” the peak of Mount Salak to show off the plane’s versatility?

No answers here. I’m just saying that the question is not so simply put.

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