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Indonesian Aircraft Crash Rescue Efforts Halted Overnight

Indonesian authorities suspended efforts to reach a Russian-made Sukhoi SuperJet 100 that crashed into a remote mountainside yesterday during a promotional flight as deteriorating weather hampered access.

There were no signs of survivors among the 45 people on board. Helicopter operations were halted and will resume in the morning, National Search and Rescue Agency head Daryatmo said at a press conference at Jakarta’s Halim Perdana airport today. He said ground rescue forces haven’t reached the crash site, contrary to earlier comments from the agency about personnel being on location.

“The ground search and rescue team of 78 people has reached 1,900 meters, quite close to the crash site, but because of the dangerous environment, I called off the search for today,” Daryatmo said. “They are around 700 meters below the crash site.”

The aircraft’s data recorder has yet to be found, and the plane was probably not transmitting signals when it crashed, Gagah Prakoso, a spokesman for the rescue agency, said. The plane disappeared from radar screens yesterday about 20 minutes after takeoff, carrying potential customers and journalists.

Femi Adi, a Bloomberg News reporter, is believed to have been among the passengers on the plane.

Criminal Probe

About 600 people, including military and police, have been deployed in the search since late yesterday, Prakoso said. Prakoso had said earlier today that airlifting of crash victims would begin in the afternoon once a helicopter landing site was cleared.

Russia opened a criminal probe into the crash, Interfax reported, citing the country’s Investigative Committee. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev also ordered an investigation by the Industry Ministry, Foreign Ministry and state-controlled planemaker United Aircraft Corp.

The SuperJet is spearheading attempts to revive Russia’s aerospace industry, which has languished since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Yesterday’s crash was probably caused by human error, acting Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters in Nizhny Tagil, a Ural Mountains city, today. The jet has a “great future,” he said.

Sales Tour

A team from Russia will arrive in Indonesia tonight, and local authorities will lead the investigation with the help from the Russian transport safety agency, Tatang Kurniadi, who heads the National Transportation Safety Committee, said in Jakarta.

The crash site on Mount Salak in West Java is about six hours’ walk from the agency’s command post in Cidahu, Daryatmo said earlier today.

The SuperJet disappeared after the crew asked air-traffic control for permission to descend to 6,000 feet (1,828 meters) from 10,000 feet, he said. The pilots didn’t explain the change of course. The weather was slightly rainy and there were no obvious signs of trouble, Daryatmo said.

The plane was on an Asian sales tour, which had included stops in Myanmar, Pakistan and Kazakhstan. Further appearances were planned in Laos and Vietnam, Olga Kayukova, a spokeswoman for Sukhoi owner United Aircraft, said by phone yesterday. The planemaker also intended to send staff to Indonesia to support rescue and investigation efforts.

Pre-Flight Checks

The twin-engine regional jet, which can carry about 100 people, was developed with Finmeccanica SpA’s Alenia Aeronautica SpA. It has an operating range of as much as 4,578 kilometers (2,845 miles). The aircraft is a challenger to regional jets built by Bombardier Inc. and Embraer SA., as well as to models being developed by Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China and Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp.

Sukhoi said the jet had gone through a full pre-flight check and displayed the “proper technical condition.” There also hadn’t been any problems during an earlier flight the same day, it said in a statement on its website.

The jet was commanded by a “very experienced crew” consisting of Chief Test Pilot Alexander Yablontsev and co-pilot Alexander Kochetkov, it said.

Russia’s aviation industry has sought to overcome the image of outdated aircraft prone to accidents. The country suffered 99 deaths after five jetliner accidents through late September last year, according to the most recent figures available from researcher Ascend Worldwide Ltd.

Russia’s Aging Fleet

Following an accident last year when a plane carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team failed to gain altitude, Medvedev, who was then president, said Russia might turn to foreign aircraft producers to ensure safety of air travel.

The age of Russia’s domestically manufactured single-aisle aircraft fleet is between 25 years and 30 years, while the U.S. fleet averages about 13 years, according to figures published late last year by Ascend, a London-based aviation consultant.

Development and capital costs for the SuperJet were about $1 billion, according to Fairfax, Virginia-based Teal Group, with another $1 billion for the engines and customer support. The list price is $28 million. The plane had 170 orders in total, according to Teal. Sukhoi itself has not disclosed order numbers.

Customers include Armenia’s Armavia and Russia’s flagship airline OAO Aeroflot, and the eight aircraft in service for two carriers have accumulated more than 3,500 flights. PT Sky Aviation, an Indonesian carrier, has ordered 12.

The plane, which seats five abreast, uses engines built by PowerJet, a venture between Snecma, a unit of Safran SA, and NPO Saturn. Safran’s Messier-Dowty unit also provides the integrated landing gear system, with B/E Aerospace providing the doors. Italy’s Avio provides the gearbox for the propulsion systems and Safran’s Aircelle unit provides the engine nacelles.

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