Alcohol Blamed in Petrozavodsk Crash
Medical examiners found that Atayev had a blood alcohol content of 0.081 percent.
Published: September 21, 2011 (Issue # 1675)
MOSCOW — A drunken flight navigator contributed to a June plane crash in Petrozavodsk that killed 47 people, with his authoritative instructions leading a less-experienced pilot to attempt a fatal landing in heavy fog, investigators said Monday.
The navigator, Aman Atayev, would seem the least likely culprit in the incident, having logged more than 13,000 hours — 541 full days — on Tu-134 jets. But the Interstate Aviation Committee said his intoxication was one of the factors that caused the crash of the RusAir jet on June 20 in Karelia’s capital.
Medical examiners found that Atayev, 50, had a blood alcohol content of 0.081 percent — slightly above the legal limit in Britain and the United States but a violation of Russian piloting rules.
Atayev’s recent divorce had driven him to drink, though he never drank before flights, his former mother-in-law, Assya Shumakova, told Rossia-1 television on Monday.
The booze — the rough equivalent to a glass of vodka — caused Atayev, who had worked in civil aviation for more than 30 years, to become more distracted, talkative and assertive, investigators said.
“Normally on a Tu-134, the navigator doesn’t do anything during landing,” Roman Gusarov, editor-in-chief of Avia.ru, an aviation news web site, said by telephone Monday.
But Atayev’s “heightened activity” in the cockpit is clear from the cockpit voice recorder, cited by the aviation agency, which wrapped up its investigation into the incident Monday.
“Sasha, come on, turn it faster!” Atayev told the pilot five minutes before the crash. “I’ll lead you right in,” he then reassured him. Trusting his navigator, the pilot refused a suggestion from air traffic controllers to abort his first approach.
Atayev also failed to instruct him to search for ground markers at an altitude of 140 meters, and at 110 meters he failed to warn the pilot that he was losing his last chance to pull up, according to the crash report, which is posted on the Interstate Aviation Committee’s web site.
The co-pilot was “effectively” absent from the cockpit during the landing, the report said, without elaborating. It also said the crew’s decision not to use certain navigational instruments was among the factors that contributed to the pilot’s decision to land.
The pilot was also misled by weather reports that said the clouds would break at 130 meters to 140 meters, when in reality land-based beacons were only visible at 70 meters or less — below the airport’s minimum for incoming aircraft, the report said.
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