Lightning Strike Considered Most Likely Cause of SSJ100 Crash

 - May 6, 2019, 10:56 AM
The wreckage of the Aeroflot SSJ100 that crash-landed on May 5 lies off Runway 24L at Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport. (Photo: The Russia Investigative Committee)

Following a daily brief at Moscow-Sheremetyevo airport on Monday during which investigators looked into causes that led to the crash-landing of an Aeroflot SSJ100 a day earlier, officials from The Investigative Committee of Russia (RIC) told journalists that the agency considers a lightning strike the most likely primary cause.

RIC head Aleksander Bystrykin decided to chair the event and inspect the wreckage himself. Later on Tuesday, his subordinates reported that other possible contributing factors under investigation include the pilots’ flying skills, air traffic control, ground personnel who served the airplane, along with technical malfunctions and other unfavorable weather conditions.

An official RIC report published early Monday claimed that the airplane caught fire after touchdown on one of the airport’s two parallel runways. It further said that out of 78 people on board, including five crew members and three children, only 33 passengers and four crew members survived. Forensic investigators have found and evacuated 41 dead bodies from the wreckage and have begun studying passenger documents and belongings for vital information before releasing them to their owners or relatives.

Other investigators have inspected the airplane’s wreckage, including pieces of avionics and radio equipment as well as flight recorders, fuel specimens, and photo-video files from the airport’s monitoring system. 

Meanwhile, Russian media sources published what they describe as a brief interview with the captain, Denis Evdokimov, who survived the crash. In his view, the troubles began when lightning struck the Superjet as it climbed. Radios ceased to function and some avionics developed failures and malfunctions. The crew did not have a radio link with the ground upon landing. For a short while, however, the pilots managed to employ a backup radio using an emergency frequency. Although it did allow the crew to inform the air traffic controllers of what happened and request and receive clearance for an immediate landing, an “unsteady” connection with a flow of interruptions made communication difficult. Still, controllers helped the crew of the stricken Superjet with a bearing toward the runway and information on other airplanes in the air and preparing for takeoff. 

Reportedly, the final approach went smoothly, but because of a hard touchdown, the airplane bounced three times as it decelerated along the runway. It caught fire shortly after touchdown, when the damaged fuel system developed leaks and leaking fuel ignited.

Evdokimov has logged 6,800 flight hours, including 1,400 in the Superjet; he became a captain two years ago.