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SuperJet Crash That Killed 45 Caused by Pilot Ignoring Alarm

A Sukhoi SuperJet crash that killed 45 people in Indonesia happened after the pilot ignored an automatic warning that the plane was on course to hit a mountain, according to the official report.

The pilot of the Russian-made aircraft may have been distracted as he was talking to a potential customer, said Tatang Kurniadi, head of Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee, which probed the May 9 accident. The pilot’s lack of familiarity with the West Java region and poor planning also contributed, he told reporters in Jakarta today.

The agency didn’t find any system failure on the aircraft, Kurniadi said. The 90-seat SuperJet, the spearhead of Russia’s push to build a globally competitive aerospace industry, was carrying reporters and potential customers during the flight, part of a regional promotional tour.

The aircraft was on its second flight of the day when it disappeared from radar screens shortly after takeoff. The collision-avoidance system was working, United Aircraft Corp., the Moscow-based parent of Sukhoi, said in May, citing the cockpit voice recorder. The plane, which seats five abreast, competes with models from Embraer SA and Bombardier Inc.

The flight was planned for an altitude of 10,000 feet over the Bogor area, according to a statement released by NTSC today. The available charts on board didn’t have information relating to the area nor the nearby terrain.

“This demonstration flight was not prepared well,” Kurniadi told reporters in Jakarta today. “The maps were not as complete as they should be.”

Warning Ignored

At 2:26 p.m. local time, the pilot contacted the Jakarta approach controller and requested for descent to 6,000 feet and subsequently sought to make a right orbit, NTSC said. The controller approved the request.

About six minutes later, the plane hit a ridge of Mount Salak, at about 6,000 feet. Thirty eight seconds prior to the collision, the Terrain Awareness Warning System activated ‘Terrain Ahead, Pull Up’ audio warning once, and ‘Avoid Terrain’ warning six times.

The pilot in command stopped the system, assuming that the warning was triggered by a problem with the database, according to NTSC. The flight warning system ‘Landing Gear Not Down’ was also activated seven seconds before the crash.

At 2:50 p.m., the Jakarta approach controller noticed that the plane disappeared from the radar monitor. There was no alert on the radar before the jet disappeared. A simulation test suggested that a recovery action up to 24 seconds after the first warning could’ve avoided the crash, NTSC said.

The Jakarta radar service had also not established minimum safe flying altitude for the region, according to the NTSC.

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