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Russian Superjet 100 Crashes During Demo Flight, Killing All Aboard 339

Posted by timothy
from the perils-of-innovation dept.
First time accepted submitter Prokur writes "A brand new Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 airliner on a demonstration flight with 37 passengers (mostly future clients and journalists) and 8 Russian crew members on board went missing after it took off from an airport in Jakarta. After an extensive search, rescuers concluded, based on the widespread debris field on the side of a ridge, that the aircraft directly impacted the rocky side of Mount Salak and there was 'no chance of survival.'"
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Russian Superjet 100 Crashes During Demo Flight, Killing All Aboard

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  • by BenJeremy (181303) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @10:12AM (#39953769)

    That can't be good for sales. If I was buying an airliner, I'd have to pass on this one.

    • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice&gmail,com> on Thursday May 10, 2012 @10:23AM (#39953907)

      Depends on why it crashed - at the moment it looks like Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT).

      Also, crashes early on doesn't necessarily mean the death of the program, the Airbus A330 suffered a crash during its development, but has gone on to sell over 1,000 examples since.

      • by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@@@jwsmythe...com> on Thursday May 10, 2012 @10:48AM (#39954289) Homepage Journal

            The initial reports I saw on this stated they requested an immediate descent from 10k feet to 6k feet moments before they disappeared from radar.

            One news report stated a farmer saw the plane fly low above him with "the engine" running. It could have been a single engine failure, which should not have been catastrophic. He may have only said "the engine" because he couldn't tell from the sound if it were one or two engines running.

            I'm sure the pilots must have known the terrain.

            Since they were suppose to be out on a 50 minute flight, they should have still been climbing.

            I would suspect the possibility of a loss of cabin pressure. Procedure for that is to put on oxygen masks, and immediately descend.

            Some people don't handle the air above 6,800 feet very well.

            If their altimeter wasn't accurate, they could have been much higher,and began suffering symptoms of hypoxia faster. The immediate descent could have done exactly what you said, controlled flight into terrain.

            We'll learn more from the flight data recorders, when they're recovered and analyzed. It may have been pilot error, equipment malfunction, or both.

        • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice&gmail,com> on Thursday May 10, 2012 @10:58AM (#39954453)

          From what I have read, the descent to 6000ft was made on the prior demo flight as well, as part of the sightseeing - the weather was poor, so they would have wanted to get under the weather to see the sights.

        • by Bitsy Boffin (110334) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @11:00AM (#39954479) Homepage

          It was a demo flight, they are (were) shopping the aircraft around various airlines looking for buyers. The pilots would not be "familiar" with the terrain. This was not a public transport flight, it was a private flight.

          These demo flights operate in, lets say, a manner designed to impress the passengers.

          A flight down low up an incredibly scenic valley, is one way of impressing your passengers. Miss judging the space needed to get out of that valley, that's not quite so impressive :(

        • by Dan East (318230) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @11:15AM (#39954663) Homepage Journal

          I doubt the pilots did knew the terrain that well. They were Russian pilots demoing a jet in a foreign country, so it would not have been an area they fly over regularly. They were touring.

          I believe they were trying to show off, and here's why I think that. One of the news sites had a video (looked like Google Earth) showing where the plane took off, and where it crashed. The mountain it crashed into is this really isolated and abrupt thing sticking way up out of lower elevation terrain. It was very clear from that imagery that the plane took off and made a bee line for those scenic mountains for impressive views for those on board. I think the pilot tried to do a close fly by and did not realize just how steep that mountain was (it is practically vertical where the plane impacted).

          Again, if you look at the topography, it is clear that if the plane had some sort of engine trouble, especially up at 10,000 feet, there was much lower elevation land they could have easily headed toward instead of happening to drop on that isolated mountain.

          Remember, this was flying around for the sake of showing off a plane - a sightseeing tour that they wanted those on board to have a memorable impression of. Thus they would have headed towards something like that mountain to give the passengers something more interesting to look at than boring cloud tops or flat land.

        • by 21mhz (443080)

          One news report stated a farmer saw the plane fly low above him with "the engine" running. It could have been a single engine failure, which should not have been catastrophic. He may have only said "the engine" because he couldn't tell from the sound if it were one or two engines running.

          Come on, who expects a farmer to know these things?

          I'm sure the pilots must have known the terrain.

          Why? They were test pilots from Sukhoi who flew in for the demonstration flights.

          Since they were suppose to be out on a 50 minute flight, they should have still been climbing.

          And that's why they requested a descent?

          Sorry, your armchair speculation does not add to understanding why this tragedy has occurred.

        • by aonsquared (2461500) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @02:29PM (#39957723)

          One news report stated a farmer saw the plane fly low above him with "the engine" running. It could have been a single engine failure, which should not have been catastrophic. He may have only said "the engine" because he couldn't tell from the sound if it were one or two engines running.

          I'm sure the pilots must have known the terrain.

          I would suspect the possibility of a loss of cabin pressure. Procedure for that is to put on oxygen masks, and immediately descend.

          Some people don't handle the air above 6,800 feet very well.

          If their altimeter wasn't accurate, they could have been much higher,and began suffering symptoms of hypoxia faster. The immediate descent could have done exactly what you said, controlled flight into terrain.

          I work for one of the major aerospace companies (one of Sukhoi's competitors with this jet, actually), and this post is very uninformed. Nothing in the reports indicate that it was an engine failure, and if so the pilots probably would've raised a distress signal.

          It's also pretty much impossible for it to be a loss of cabin pressure. People handle 6,800 feet perfectly fine - in fact, regular flights are pressurised to an equivalent of 8,000 feet, and you don't see people suffering from hypoxia in most regular flights.

          As has been mentioned, this was probably a demonstration flight intended to impress the customers. There was a first flight earlier that day which did the same thing, and when they do that, they turn off the ground proximity warnings to avoid constant alarms while they're performing the pass. However reports indicate that the visibility became much worse for the second flight, and if those proximity warnings have been accidentally left off from the first flight earlier in the day, they may have had no warning of a collision with the mountain. Of course, none of these speculations can be certain until the final report has been released. This is a tragic loss, and my condolences go out to the friends and relatives of the passengers and crew.

    • by wjousts (1529427)
      Considering that the people they were trying to convince and now smeared across the side of a volcano...I'd agree. Lost sale.
    • You're right... I'd much rather have one of those new planes that can fly right through a mountain.

    • by Guppy (12314)

      37 passengers (mostly future clients and journalists)

      Those executives should have known better than to go themselves. Sending an management lackey [youtube.com] to participate in demos is much safer. :P

  • by RapidEye (322253) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @10:13AM (#39953775) Homepage

    I hope Sukhoi wasn't counting on repeat customers to make their sales figures this year...

    • by wjousts (1529427)
      Really! I can hardly imagine a worse scenario for a manufacturer of passenger aircraft. Who would buy one now? Who would board one now? It's gonna take an epic feat of PR damage control to save the company (or at least their passenger aircraft division) after that.
      • They still have Aeroflot to fall back on...
        • by rwise2112 (648849)

          They still have Aeroflot to fall back on...

          I remember an old David Letterman's top ten list of ways to improve Aeroflot -- more Aero and less flot!

    • by jbeaupre (752124)

      Maybe not, but they have a new one. From Wikipedia:

              9 May 2012 - Crashes during a demonstration flight in Indonesia. No survivors were found.

              10 May 2012 - Pakistan is interested in purchasing 8 new SSJ-100 planes.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukhoi_Superjet_100#Timeline [wikipedia.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In Russia...plane crashes you

  • Weather (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dzimas (547818) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @10:20AM (#39953869)
    It was apparently raining or overcast, seems likely that the pilots flew into the mountain while attempting a sightseeing flyby. That's a completely different story than if there was a mechanical malfunction. Of course, they'll lose sales either way.
    • Unfortunately, 'even a controlled flight into terrain', as I'm told it is polite to describe it, looks rather bad if 'Sukhoi’s chief civil test pilot' is the man at the controls(which it was). A very common form of accident, even among the competent; but probably doesn't give buyers the warm-and-fuzzies.
    • by swb (14022)

      Either way, apparently there's no terrain avoidance alarm, or the one they have doesn't work.

    • by Rogerborg (306625)
      You can bet your bottom ruble that Sukhoi will give some token praise of the pilot's experience and skill, take a very brief pause for breath, then blame him for everything bad that's happened since the Berlin Wall came down, plus everything that goes wrong in the next 6 months as well.
  • by jbeaupre (752124) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @10:20AM (#39953881)

    "Are you sure you don't want to buy our planes? Very well. If we have no further business, our aircraft is now on its final descent. Don't bother fastening your seat belts."

  • on the other hand, if they were being forced to watch an in-flight Jennifer Aniston movie, then it's just merciful...
    • Re:movie? (Score:5, Funny)

      by quenda (644621) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @10:45AM (#39954241)

      on the other hand, if they were being forced to watch an in-flight Jennifer Aniston movie, then it's just merciful...

      How dare you judge her? I mean what are you? You think you're some kind of, like, angel here? No, you're just this penny-stealing... wanna-be criminal... man.

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @10:22AM (#39953895) Homepage Journal
    In the 90's they told us that if a customer has a good experience with your company he will generally not tell anyone, but if he has a bad experience with your company he'll tell at least 10 other people. They failed to cover the "Your product resulted in their death" case, though.
    • In the 2000s companies learned that death didn't matter, they would simply buy a congresscritter and get the law changed so it's illegal to talk about it. See: the beef industry.

      What "freedom" is the corporate sycophant Tea Party talking about again?!?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by cpu6502 (1960974)

        Most Tea Partiers (like me) hate corporations. It's pretty much why the thing formed in the first place (first to help Ron Paul in 2007, and then to protest the bailout of corporations by Bush).

        Sadly the Tea Party Congressmen just voted 71% in favor of the CISPA spying-by-corporations act, so maybe the TP has lost its was over the years. Hijacked by the Republicans.

    • by l0ungeb0y (442022)

      In the 80's they told us that Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid.
      So I think that sufficiently covers it.

  • The entire country is corrupt, decrepit and dysfunctional, not just Putin's much vaunted "national champions".

    The corrupt little dictator knows that the country he presides over is falling over. Which is why he's so busy turkey-slapping anybody who looks like they could ever be a friend of Russia.

    With another twelve years of this thug, Russia is fucked.

    • by Kozz (7764)

      The entire country is corrupt, decrepit and dysfunctional, not just Putin's much vaunted "national champions".

      The corrupt little dictator knows that the country he presides over is falling over. Which is why he's so busy turkey-slapping anybody who looks like they could ever be a friend of Russia.

      With another twelve years of this thug, Russia is fucked.

      When I first heard about the jet crash, I was wondering if any of the people on the plane were political enemies of Putin.

  • by paiute (550198)
    How many can I sign you up for?
  • by bobbied (2522392) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @11:49AM (#39955251)

    It is likely that the primary cause of this was pilot error and what we have is controlled flight into fixed terrain. Demonstration flights are designed to wow the prospective customers and it seems likely that they where attempting to do a bit of sightseeing. After all, commercial aviation is usually boring because you are spending hours and hours going straight and level with only takeoff and landing being somewhat interesting. They where taking the local sightseeing tour to spice things up a bit, which is why they requested the lower altitude. You don't go lower without an emergency, unless you intend to land or look at something, and by all the accounts I've heard there was no emergency declared and there are few places to land around there.

    The pilot may have been a great test pilot with lots of time in the aircraft he was flying, but I seriously doubt he has a lot of experience with the local terrain and weather conditions. Flying 500' from the tops of mountains can be a difficult thing on a clear day, but you add the tropical rains, possible winds driving air over the mountains and the risks go up. Bush pilots avoid these situations in much slower aircraft because it is too easy to run out of room faster than you can turn around or climb, this was a much faster less maneuverable aircraft than a C208 or Caravan. Further you have the issue of turbulence, up and down drafts that are common issues with mountain flying. These things can make maintaining altitude unexpectedly difficult when trying to maneuver. Smart pilots avoid unnecessary risks, this guy didn't because he was trying to sell airplanes. His requested altitude was ONLY 500' above the existing terrain in limited visibility, I'm pretty much going to call this pilot irresponsible for taking such risks.

    It is possible a mechanical problem may have contributed to this, but unless we are talking about a MAJOR mechanical issue that made the aircraft totally un-flyable (an extremely rare situation), the primary cause of this accident is surely going to be pilot error. Even in the face of a major mechanical failure they are going to fault him for 1. flying too low , 2. Choosing to fly around dangerous terrain, 3. Choosing to fly in limited visibility where he had to maintain visual orientation to remain safe.

    Chances are we have yet again another case of human error, stemming from lack of wise judgement. But that is no surprise because this is the most common killer in aviation with mechanical failure being order of magnitudes less likely.

  • by Yvan256 (722131) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @11:56AM (#39955343) Homepage Journal

    Lev Andropov: It's stuck, yes?
    Watts: Back off! You don't know the components!
    Lev Andropov: [annoyed] Components. American components, Russian Components, ALL MADE IN TAIWAN!

  • http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/newsletter/superjet-disappears-south-of-jakarta-notes-from-an-aviation-consultant/517078 [thejakartaglobe.com]

    Notes from an aviation consultant on the area in question and why it seemed like poor planning on the Russian crew's part.

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