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By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s aviation authorities have expressed serious reservations about Russian investigators’ preliminary conclusion that last May’s crash of an Armenian airliner in southern Russia, which killed all 113 people aboard, was caused by pilot error.

Citing their findings , Russia’s Transport Minister Igor Levitin said in July 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 the Moscow-based Interstate Aviation Committee (ICA) of the Commonwealth of Independent States which also investigated the deadliest air disaster in Armenia’s history.

The Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department essentially accepted this verdict at the time. At the same time, its director Artyom Movsisian said that although the “human factor” apparently played a role in the crash, Yerevan believes that there are still some key unanswered questions about its causes.

It emerged on Wednesday that Movsisian’s department has presented the ICA with a six-page document that questions some of the conclusions drawn by the Russian investigators. In particular, the Armenian side complained that the Russians failed to take note of Sochi airport’s alleged failure to “detect dangerous weather conditions” that are thought to have prevented the plane belonging to the national airline Armavia from landing safely on first attempt.

Armavia’s owner Mikhail Baghdasarian insists that the A-320 would have avoided the crash had it not received a last-minute order to veer away from the airport’s runway and make a second approach. Baghdasarov, who is a Russian citizen of Armenian descent, has rejected the ICA verdict and demanded an “independent inquiry.”

The Civil Aviation Department also took issue with the investigators’ implicit claims that Armavia had failed to properly train its pilots and assess their professional level. It further urged them to drop from their preliminary conclusions an assertion that moments before the crash the A-320 crew found themselves in a “tense psycho-emotional situation” due to unspecified “imperative demands to land at Sochi.”

According to rumors cited by the Armenian press, those demands were made by some wealthy and influential passengers of the doomed flight. There have also been allegations that a gunfight may have broken out between crime figures that were allegedly among the victims of the crash. The Armenian government and Armavia have dismissed the claims.

Aviation Department spokeswoman Gayane Davtian could not say when the ICA will release its final verdict or whether Yerevan will succeed in influencing its content. “They may publish their final findings at any moment,” she told RFE/RL.
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