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By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia’s main airline, Armavia, dismissed on Thursday Russian officials’ claims that the May 3 crash of one of its passenger jets, which killed all 113 people on board, was caused by pilot error.

Russia’s Transport Minister Igor Levitin said on Wednesday that the Airbus A-320 plunged into the Black Sea as it approached the Russian resort city of Sochi because of a “human factor,” effectively laying the blame on its crew. He said this is the conclusion drawn by a Russian-led inquiry into the worst air disaster in Armenia’s history.

A special commission formed by the Interstate Aviation Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States also took part in the inquiry. The Russian head of the body, Tatyana Anodina, endorsed its findings, saying that the A-320’s main pilot “did not ensure control of the plane as far as angle and altitude were concerned.”

Senior Armavia executives strongly disagreed with this, saying that other factors such as conflicting instructions reportedly given to the A-320 crew by Russian traffic controllers and stormy weather were also at play. Armavia’s Russian-Armenian owner, Mikhail Baghdasarian, insisted earlier that the plane would have safely landed at Sochi airport had it not received a last-minute order to veer away from the runway and make a second approach.

“We do not deny that the crew made some mistakes during that flight,” said Arshak Nalbandian, head of the private carrier’s flight safety department. “Yes, it did. But was it those mistakes that led to the plane’s collision with the sea? That has yet to be proven.”

Russian and Armenian officials had initially suggested that bad weather was the most likely cause of the crash. Also, the Russian traffic controller who was in charge of the fatal Yerevan-Sochi flight was reportedly placed under investigation in the wake of the disaster.

Nalbandian claimed that the commission set up by the Interstate Aviation Committee had no right to endorse any conclusions before issuing its own report on the crash signed by all of its members, among them two Armavia executives. “The commission has not yet finished its work,” he told a news conference.

“If we are not satisfied with the further work of the commission, we may well appeal to a third party to conduct an independent inquiry,” Nalbandian warned.

The Armenian government has not yet officially reacted to Levitin’s statements which most Armenian pilots and other aviation specialists find unconvincing. The leadership of its Civil Aviation Department was scheduled to discuss the matter at a special meeting later on Thursday.

Levitin and Anodina were widely expected to publicize the findings of the Russian inquiry when they visited Yerevan earlier this month. However, they avoided doing so after talks with Armenian leaders.
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