Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Moscow crash: Aircraft and crew identified

As promised, here is an update on yesterday's crash at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport.

Russia's daily online news service Kommersant published a few Reuters photos of the crash scene and reported the following:
The plane was a Challenger 850 made by Canada’s Bombardier Aerospace. Moscow-based Fort-Aero had rented the aircraft from a Swiss company.

The Challenger was bound for Berlin. At 4.40 the chief pilot, a U.S. citizen Ashish Gasvami, received a takeoff permission. The jet caught fire as it was speeding down the runway in heavy snowfall. The preliminary investigation showed that after it had caught fire, the plane turned on its side, landing on its right wing.

Mr. Gasvami, his co-pilot Konstantin Sannikov and technical engineer Vyacheslav Lazarevich were taken to hospital with insignificant injuries.

The party which caused the crash is most likely to pay damages to the airlines which suffered a 3-hour standstill of the airport following the crash.
If you thought that last line sounded ominous, so did I.

Sure enough, an article in the Moscow Times says that a criminal inquiry was opened in regard to the Vnukovo crash. And while the Kommersant article above referred to the crew's injuries as "insignificant," the Moscow Times article said that two of the crew were comatose:
Officials on Wednesday opened a criminal investigation into the crash of a jet at Vnukovo International Airport, which left two of the plane's three crew members in comas.

The Canadair Special Edition crashed at around 4:50 p.m. Tuesday after an engine caught fire as it took off in a snowstorm en route to Berlin.

The Prosecutor General's Office said a criminal investigation had been opened into the crash, a routine practice after such accidents.
The Moscow Times article gave the same names and nationalities for the crew as Kommersant.

It's still unclear just whose airplane this was. In their article about the Vnukovo crash (with photo), published the aircraft's tail number -- an American 'N' registration number, which I looked up in the FAA database. The FAA record lists the owner as Wells Fargo Bank Northwest in Salt Lake City. and others have reported that a Moscow-based company, Fort Aero, said it owned the plane. Yesterday there were some reports that the aircraft was operated by TAG, in Switzerland, but TAG denied that it was one of theirs.

As to what happened, presented the clearest report in their article:
Having left the Vnukovo-3 general aviation terminal the jet was departing from runway 06 in poor weather. Meteorological data indicates snow, showers and a crosswind at the time. The jet was bound for Berlin at around 16:36, says Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK), the authority overseeing the investigation.

Russia's emergency ministry says that the aircraft suffered a sudden engine fire during the take-off roll, adding: "The aircraft travelled beyond the limits of the runway, overturned and was destroyed."
It's been somewhat difficult to find reliable information about this accident. There's been very little about it on the websites in the North America and Europe where I usually look for news. I can't help thinking that this might have been taken as a more newsworthy story if there had been passengers on board the aircraft. Sadly, since 'only the crew' were aboard, I guess it's just not big news outside the aviation community.

Update Feb. 20, 2007: Here is a link to a Russian website that has some rather startling photos of the overturned aircraft: Click here. Since I cannot read Russian, I don't know whose website it is or what it says. (Thanks to the reader who sent the link to me.)

I'm sorry to say that I have been unable to find any updates on the condition of the crew who were injured in the accident.