By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian government indicated on Friday that it has essentially accepted Russian investigators’ conclusion that an Armenian airliner crashed in southern Russia and killed all 113 people aboard on May 3 due to pilot error.
Artyom Movsisian, head of the government’s Civil Aviation Department, said although the “human factor” apparently played a role in the disaster, Yerevan believes that there are still some key unanswered questions about its causes.
Russia’s Transport Minister Igor Levitin said on Wednesday that the crew of the Armenian Airbus A-320 lost control of the plane as they made a second attempt to land at the Black Sea city of Sochi. This conclusion was endorsed by Tatyana Anodina the Russian head of the Interstate Aviation Committee (ICA) of the Commonwealth of Independent States which also investigated the crash.
According to Movsisian, a 74-page report issued by the ICA does not explain what exactly caused the passenger jet to plunge into the Black Sea in stormy weather. He said the deciphering of its black box flight recorders revealed that the plane belonging to Armenia’s Armavia airline flew in a normal regime until suddenly disappearing from Russian radar screens.
“Whether the pilot had health problems, a traffic controller made him nervous or he lost orientation is not clear,” the official told a news conference. “We are talking about 17-20 seconds before the accident when the pilot’s actions left the plane in an unstable state.”
Armavia and most Armenian aviation specialists have rejected the findings of the Russian-led inquiry, saying that other factors such as conflicting instructions reportedly given to the A-320 crew by Russian traffic controllers and bad weather were instrumental in the disaster. Movsisian confirmed in this regard that the doomed plane’s chief pilot cursed one of the controllers who was subsequently placed under investigation.
Armavia’s owner Mikhail Baghdasarian, a Russian citizen of Armenian descent, believes that the A-320 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. Baghdasarov said on Thursday that he will demand an “independent inquiry” into the crash.
In an apparent response to the outcry, the ICA issued a statement saying that the Russian-led probe took “in strict compliance with international civil aviation standards” and involved aviation experts from Armenia and France. “There were no restrictions on the participation of members of the [ICA’s investigating] commission and their experts, including specialists from Armenia, in the course of the investigation,” the statement said. “Political pressure on the work of the commission was not and could not have been exerted by both Russia and Armenia and France.”
Movsisian similarly dismissed as “inappropriate” allegations that the Russian government pressured the investigators into shifting responsibility for the massive loss of life from Sochi traffic controllers to the dead pilots. “Political decisions are made only in the political field,” he said.
(Photolur photo: Artyom Movsisian.)