-Randy Mi (‘19)
Moscow, Russia – In the early afternoon of February 11th, the residents of the small village of Stepanovski, about 50 miles northeast of Moscow, were startled by the sight of an Antonov AN-148 dropping out of the sky. The fireball was caught on a surveillance camera in a nearby house, showing a bright orange Antonov trailing smoke slamming into a nearby snowy hillside and then exploding in flames. There were no survivors.
The explanation initially offered by Russian aviation officials was that there was an on-board mechanical failure, but this was later refuted by air traffic control records which showed that the pilots never contacted air traffic control about any mechanical issues. The most likely reason for the crash, according to the Russian Interstate Aviation Committee, was that an iced over speedometer gave faulty readings which contributed to the plane’s erratic ascent and descent before the crash. High winds and low visibility could also have been contributing factors.
However, a recent CCTV video released by Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport showed one of the plane’s engines catching on fire shortly after takeoff. If this is true, then it contradicts earlier air traffic control reports which stated that the Antonov was fine after takeoff. This raises further questions regarding the integrity of Russian air traffic controllers, as well as the skill of the pilot for not having noticed the explosion. Regardless, we will not know the real reason behind the crash for sure until the black box is found.
Shortly after the crash, emergency service crews from Moscow descended onto the crash site, scouring the almost two square mile derby field searching for any survivors buried inside of the almost waist deep snow. However, all they found were bodies. Among the 71 dead were 15 children.
This death toll represents the largest Russian aviation tragedy since 2016, when a Russian military plane carrying 92 passengers crashed under similar circumstances. These crashes perpetuate a history of negligence in Russian aviation. Saratov Airlines, the owner of the crashed Antonov, had already been under investigation for numerous safety violations spanning back to 2007. The reason this faulty plane was allowed to take off speaks to a greater need for serious safety measures in aviation. While it is true that Russian aviation safety has come a long way since the 1990s, skeptiks still say it is the culture of Russian aviation that ensures that these accidents keep on occurring.
After the news of the crash broke, President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to the families that were affected by the crash, and ordered the federal transportation agency and prosecutor’s office to look into possible punishment for Saratov Airlines. President Putin also instructed the government to form a special commission to look into ways for preventing future airline accidents.