Why did Russia lose another jet off the Admiral Kuznetsov?

The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov with Sukhoi Su-33 fighters.

The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov with Sukhoi Su-33 fighters.

Lev Fedoseyev/TASS
A Sukhoi Su-33 fighter jet crashed while attempting to land on the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier on Dec. 5. This is the second loss in a month of a Russian navy jet based on this carrier. The Russian Defense Ministry says that the operations of the Russian naval group in the Mediterranean Sea continue despite the losses.

A Russian Sukhoi-33 fighter jet based on the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier has crashed in the Mediterranean while attempting to land, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement obtained by the TASS news agency.

"After performing a combat mission over Syria, a Sukhoi-33 fighter-jet overran the runway while trying to land on the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier. The rupture of the arresting cable was the reason," the statement said.

The pilot ejected from the aircraft and was retrieved by search and rescue personnel. He is currently on board the Admiral Kuznetsov and his life is not in danger, according to the Defense Ministry statement.

The ministry statement also said that the Russian aircraft carrier-led group continues to operate in the Mediterranean in accordance with its plan, and all jets attached to the group are continuing to carry out their missions.

The Dec. 5 crash is is the second loss in a month of a Russian navy jet based on the Admiral Kuznetsov. On Nov. 13, a Russian MiG-29 fighter jet crashed into the Mediterranean when returning to the carrier following a mission.

Challenges of landing on an aircraft carrier

The Admiral Kuznetsov has four arresting cables. To successfully land on the carrier, a pilot needs to snag one of the arresting cables with the tailhook of the aircraft, according to Gazeta.ru military observer Mikhail Khodarenok.  

Ideally, the tailhook should catch the the second, third or fourth cable. There is a greater risk of a crash landing on the deck if the tailhook catches the first cable.

The circumstances of this crash were different from those that caused the crash of a fighter jet on Nov. 13.

On that day,  three MiG-29KR fighter jets prepared to return to the Admiral Kuznetsov after a combat mission. They were scheduled to land on the carrier in quick succession, with an interval of three or four minutes between each landing.

The first aircraft landed successfully. The second  aircraft , however, snapped two arresting cables and  only barely managed to grab the fourth one. The severed second and third cables then intertwined, requiring a repair and making it impossible to land the third aircraft on schedule.

The third fighter jet, with its fuel tanks nearly empty, was waved off while the repair  was being conducted, but the jet’s engines shut down and it crashed. It is not possible to establish whether the engine failure was caused by lack of fuel or a technical malfunction since the aircraft is currently lying on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

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