Russian Superjet Tragedy

The terrifying spectacle of the Sukhoi airliner crash landing in Moscow and bursting into a fiery inferno was hard to watch; how can this happen with a modern jetliner?

What we see in the video clip is a hard landing followed by a large bounce and a return to earth that was hard enough to break off the landing gear, which presumably punctured the fuel tanks and produced the fire.

As information slowly leaks out, we hear that the problem began with a lightning strike that took out most of the radio system and, word has it, reverted the fly by wire aircraft to basic controls. If that is the case it was dramatic but not immediately hazardous and so why was there such a hurry to return to the departure point?

We cannot know what other problems the crew faced and if they had other control system malfunctions but we can see that the landing configuration appears to have been normal – flaps/slats set for landing – and so that implies that the controls were functioning. Was this an urgent situation or did poor training standards cause the crew to make an over anxious and hurried return and a botched landing due to haste?

What seems sure is that the hard landing triggered the accident and subsequent fire but could the death toll have been less?

The two obvious points from the video clip are the slow arrival of the fire service vehicles and passengers that did escape taking hand luggage in some cases. It is hard to see that either of these points helped.

It is suggested that the emergency equipment wasn’t requested until the crash occurred, which is strange as the aircraft had used its transponder and apparently some broken radio comms to alert air traffic control. Usually the emergency kit would be standing by near the runway and most of us in the industry will have had them follow us until we stop with even minor problems reported, so a big questions mark there.

Whilst international standards are supposed to be universal and consistent, they are not and it is possible that cultural issues had an impact on all elements of the event.