Source: AFP via Getty Images

Doomed FlyDubai Plane Put Into `Nose-Down' Position Before Crash

  • Initial report on March crash suggests pilot confusion
  • Airline seeks `conclusive findings' as quickly as possible

Pilot error likely contributed to the fatal crash of a FlyDubai plane in southern Russia last month, an initial report by investigators indicated.

Amid windshear warnings and severe turbulence, the crew aborted an attempted landing at Rostov-on-Don Airport. But as they revved the engines to regain altitude, the plane was inexplicably put into a “nose-down” position, leading to a sudden descent of the Boeing Co. 737-800 that doomed all 62 people on board, the Interstate Aviation Committee said in a statement on Friday after a preliminary review of flight data.

“The initial report suggests that this wasn’t a problem with the aircraft, but an action by the crew that resulted in changing the plane from a climb into a descent,” said Paul Hayes, safety specialist at London-based aviation consultancy Ascend Worldwide. “While the report doesn’t specifically say the pilot commanded the nose-down configuration, it’s a reasonable assumption to make.”

The crash investigators’ statement is the first indication of what went wrong. The flight-safety organization for 12 countries, including Russia, will continue to examine the accident. The process includes reconstructing the circumstances and examining the two flight recorders, known as black boxes.

‘Sonic Delusion’

Amid high winds, rain and low cloud cover, the crew had disengaged the autopilot and was seeking to land the aircraft manually. After descending to 220 meters (720 feet), the landing procedure was halted and the plane started to climb again with engines at “takeover thrust,” the report said. Then at a height of 900 meters, the plane received “nose-down input” resulting in the abrupt descent that the pilots failed to halt. The reason for the change of direction wasn’t explained. The plane hit the ground at more than 600 kilometers per hour (372 mph).

“We are aware of the information” released by investors and are cooperating, FlyDubai said in an e-mailed statement. “We share the desire to get conclusive findings as quickly as possible.” Boeing said it isn’t permitted to comment on ongoing investigations.

While the information from the cockpit voice recording isn’t yet publicly available, “sonic delusion” is sometimes an issue in situations where pilots can’t see well and rely on auditory signals, rather than instruments, to understand a plane’s orientation, Ascend’s Hayes said.

Work to review the two-hour cockpit voice recordings are at the “final stage,” the IAC said in the statement. The committee is enlisting the help of experts from the U.S., Spain and the United Arab Emirates to complete the investigation.

At about the same time as the FlyDubai plane was due to land, flights operated by Aeroflot, Czech Airlines and Turkish Airlines opted to re-route rather than land at Rostov-on-Don, according to information from tracking service Flightradar24.com. The Aeroflot pilots made three landing attempts but both the Russian and Czech planes diverted to Krasnodar, about 275 kilometers (171 miles) away, while Turkish Airlines returned to Istanbul.

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