Pilot error caused FlyDubai crash

The crash site of the Boeing-737-800 passenger jet which crashed on landing in Rostov-on-Don airport.

The crash site of the Boeing-737-800 passenger jet which crashed on landing in Rostov-on-Don airport.

Sergey Pivovarov/RIA Novosti
The dozens of people who died aboard the FlyDubai Boeing 737-800 may have lost their lives when the plane crashed at Rostov-on-Don airport after the pilots disagreed while the aircraft was picking up altitude to make another go-around, reports the daily Kommersant, citing sources close to the investigation. An Indian couple were among the 55 passengers who lost their lives, along with seven crew members.

Pilot error after a disagreement between the pilots has emerged as the most likely cause for the crash of a FlyDubai airliner in southern Russia’s Rostov-on-Don airport on March 19,  Russian business daily Kommersant reported.

Having deciphered the flight recorder of the crashed Boeing 737-800, Russian investigators have been able to recreate the last moments before the disaster. While trying to land the aircraft at Rostov-on-Don airport in adverse weather, the crew had to abort the first landing attempt to try and make another go-around.

Kommersant reports that because of strong and constantly shifting winds, the Boeing's auto-throttle, which ensures an aircraft's descent or ascent in autopilot mode, did not function properly. The captain took the decision to switch off autopilot and steer the aircraft himself.

According to the flight recorder data, six kilometres from the runway, at an altitude of 270 metres, one of the pilots pressed the TOGA (“Take-off/Go around”) button, which aborts a landing attempt and sends the aircraft on another circuit.

Autopilot off

One of the crew members then switched off the autopilot and took control of the aircraft. That meant that the pilots had to set the aircraft’s angle of pitch themselves on the basis of the readings on the control panel.

Investigators believe that the crew made a mistake when switching between the landing and ascent modes.

Kommersant points out that the aircraft was in a complex configuration during its descent in the autopilot mode. Its elevator was set to nose-down, while the fin was working in the opposite direction, tipping the nose of the aircraft up.

When an aircraft makes another go-around in autopilot mode, the system simultaneously changes the position of all the tillers. However, the autopilot was switched off and one of the pilots pulled the steering column towards him.

Disagreement in the cockpit

As a result, the Boeing headed upwards. When the aircraft reached a critical angle, the speed began to drop and a disagreement erupted between the pilots. 

Kommersant, citing sources close to the investigation, said the pilot who was at the controls at the time revved the engines as the aircraft was ascending, while the co-pilot began to tip the nose of the aircraft downward. The other pilot began shouting: "Stop. Where are you flying? Stop!Stop!" At the same time, he was trying to push the tiller away to stop the ascent.

Experts explain that the conflicting actions at the two tillers resulted in a "break-up" in command and sent the Boeing into a nosedive. The pilots managed to coordinate their actions only as the aircraft was coming down at a speed of 325 kph at an angle of about 45 degrees.

However, by then it was too late and the last sounds on the recording are the panic-stricken pilots’ shrieks of horror as the aircraft plunges to the ground. 

Identity of speakers unclear

According to Kommersant, investigators have not yet been able to establish which of the pilots made the fateful mistake: The intonation and timbre of their voices on the recording blend together.

Law-enforcement agencies are planning to seek the help of the pilots' families in order to help them identify the speakers.

Indians among dead

A young couple; Shyam Mohan, 27, and his wife, Anju, 26; from the South Indian state of Kerala, who worked as Ayurveda therapists in Rostov-on-Don; were among the 62 people killed when the Dubai airliner crashed, Indian authorities confirmed.  

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