JAKARTA (Reuters) - The crash of a Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 that killed 45 people in Indonesia in May was caused by pilot error and the Jakarta air traffic control’s lack of a minimum safe altitude system, investigators said on Tuesday.
The aircraft flew into a mountain on a demonstration flight during at tour of Asia to drum up sales.
The Sukhoi Superjet 100 was the first civil plane to be built by Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, as part of state-owned United Aircraft Corporation, created by Russian leader Vladimir Putin to revive the aircraft industry.
The warning systems on the plane worked fine in alerting the pilots to danger, seconds before the jet hit Mount Salak, a dormant volcano about 40 miles (60 km) south of Jakarta, investigators said in a report.
Thirty-eight seconds before the impact, the plane warned “terrain ahead, pull up”, and then warned six times “avoid terrain”. But the pilot inhibited the system, assuming there was a problem on the database, said Tatang Kurniadi, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Committee, in a statement.
A simulation test showed the pilot, Sukhoi’s chief civil test pilot Alexander Yablontsev, could have avoided the crash if action had been taken 24 seconds after the first warning, the joint Indonesian and Russian investigation found.
The crew was not aware of the mountainous area and was distracted by “prolonged conversation not related to the progress of the flight”, investigators found.
It took 18 minutes for the controller on duty at Jakarta’s air traffic control to notice the plane had vanished from radar, and there was no alert before it disappeared, the report said. The controller had earlier given permission for the plane to descend from 10,000 feet to 6,000 feet.
The investigators said the Jakarta radar service’s lack of a minimum altitude for routes in the area and lack of an altitude warning system were factors in the accident.
The crash killed everyone on board, including Indonesian businessmen and journalists, Russian pilots and embassy officials, one American and one French citizen.
The plane was developed with Western design advice and technology from companies including Italy’s Finmeccanica, as well as avionics and engine equipment from French aerospace firms Thales and Safran.
Reporting by Neil Chatterjee; Editing by Robert Birsel