The crash landing of an Aeroflot Superjet 100 regional jet last weekend shortly after it took off from Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow. A total of 41 people perished in the crash, including one flight attendant. The accident is the subject of some mystery and a great deal of controversy. Why did the jet crash? Why did nearly every passenger seated toward the rear of the plane die? Did passengers follow emergency evacuation procedures? What was the role of the flight attendants in the evacuation?
The first question, why did the jet crash, is a good one, and the answer is, we don’t know yet. At the same time, we do know some pertinent details. There was thunderstorm activity in the vicinity of the airport, and there are credible reports that the plane was struck by lightning resulting in some electrical systems failures.
At the same time, if the plane was merely without electrical power, and the crew was able to extend the gear for landing, which they apparently were able to do, then why did the jet crash at all? Why wasn’t it a normal landing apart from there being no radio communications? Did the crew panic? Was there another system malfunction that prevented the jet from being controlled normally? We don’t know, but investigators are looking into it. The cockpit voice recorder has been recovered intact, but the flight data recorder was damaged by the fire; reports are that Russian authorities are attempting to recover data from the damaged recorder.
The plane crash-landed on the pilots’ second attempt at a landing, and only after bouncing twice. It struck tail first after the landing gear looked to be sheared off by the impact with the runway, and the rear of the plane immediately burst into flames. There are reports that the pilots elected not to dump fuel because the plane was over the city of Moscow, which is very densely populated.
But the bigger controversy currently is what role the passengers played in the fatalities. There are photographs of passengers who successfully escaped the burning wreckage carrying luggage with them, which seems a clear violation of emergency evacuation protocol. Passengers are instructed to leave all personal belongings and just get off the plane, following uniformed crewmembers’ instructions. Did those passengers who did take baggage off the plane slow the escape of passengers behind them? If so, they might have caused injuries or fatalities of passengers and crewmembers behind them.
On the other hand, the plane hit very hard on landing and the rear section of the fuselage burst into flames immediately, leading some to speculate that those rear cabin passengers never stood a chance of surviving the crash and ensuing fire.
It is, as we pointed out in a previous story on the crash, very likely that the surviving flight attendants, who forcefully ushered passengers out the door and down the emergency slide, did save lives, all while putting their own lives in greater danger as they evacuated the plane.
As we said, there are questions that remain to be answered, the most important of which is why did the plane crash at all? Barring that crash, there would be no discussion about the comportment of the passengers.