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Moscow crash: Stabiliser suspected

Plane's engine
One of four engines from the doomed Il-86 lies amid the wreckage  

MOSCOW, Russia -- An inquiry into the Russian jet crash that killed 14 crew members is focusing on a possible malfunction of its horizontal stabiliser, officials said.

Investigator Valery Chernyayev said the device spontaneously moved two seconds after the Il-86 took off on Sunday. Six seconds after the shift, the plane's commander tried to compensate by thrusting the control stick forward as far as possible, "which was not successful," he said.

The horizontal stabiliser, located on a plane's tail, controls the pitch of the aircraft's nose in flight. A sudden ascent at too steep an angle could cause an aircraft to stall, meaning it loses the lift on its wings.

Chernyayev said the horizontal stabilisers of all Il-86 planes in service would now probably be checked. The Il-86 -- a four-engine jet and a workhorse for Russian airlines -- is often used by top Russian officials for travel, including President Vladimir Putin.

The Il-86: A Russian workhorse 

Authorities were examining flight data and an audio recording from the cockpit of the crashed jet, which had been heading on Sunday afternoon to its home airport in St. Petersburg with 16 crew aboard.

Two flight attendants survived the crash -- one was virtually unscathed -- of the Pulkovo Airlines jet, empty except for crew after bringing about 250 passengers to Moscow from the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The pilots did not have time to tell controllers there was a problem, aviation officials told The Associated Press.

All four cockpit crew members and 10 of the 12 flight attendants were killed, officials said. Work to find and identify the bodies was slow because of the impact of the doomed plane, but officials at Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee said the data recorders were found in good condition, the Interfax news agency reported.

One of the flight attendants, Arina Vinogradova, survived the crash with only an injured hand and bruises, and was able to sit up in her hospital bed in footage shown on RTR television.

Firefighters extinguish the last flames surrounding the plane's wreckage  

"She felt a frightful trembling," said Dmitry Fyodorovsky, a doctor who treated Vinogradova. "She did not think the plane was going to fall, but then it started to crash."

The plane came down about 200 metres from the runway not far from the Dmitrov highway northwest of Moscow, which at the time was crowded with traffic as Muscovites headed home from a hot summer weekend at their dachas.

The crash came a day after another Soviet-era plane, an Su-27 fighter jet, ploughed through a crowd of spectators at an air show in western Ukraine, killing 83 people. (Full story)

Sheremetyevo-1 airport serves mainly flights within the former Soviet Union, and is located adjacent to Moscow's main international airport, Sheremetyevo-2.

Witnesses said the aircraft had climbed steeply, then suddenly dropped into a grassy area outside a fence around the airport and burst into flames.

A man who said he saw the crash told TVS television that the plane travelled with its nose almost straight up for 15-20 seconds before it became horizontal again and then crashed.

Anatoly Ivanov, a pilot and head of flight services for Pulkovo airlines -- which operates regular passenger and cargo service between Moscow and St. Petersburg -- said he was friends with the pilot and described him as a first-rate airman with more than 20 years experience of flying.

"I have no doubt that the actions of the crew were accurate," Ivanov told a news conference Sunday. He said it was "too early to say" what caused the crash, but added the plane had been maintained to Russian and international standards.

The Il-86 has four engines and can carry up to 350 passengers. It is comparable in size to the Airbus A300 and three-engined McDonnell Douglas DC-10. (More)

"This is a very tragic event. This was a reliable plane," Ivanov said. Russian media reports said in the nearly 30 years that the Il-86 has been in service there have been only six crashes, with no fatalities.

Another Russian plane was forced to make an emergency landing late on Sunday after suffering engine trouble, but no one was hurt. The Krasair Tu-134, landed in the northern city of Norilsk after a flight from Novosibirsk with 75 people aboard, officials at the Siberian office of the Emergencies Ministry said.

Seventy-one people also died a month ago when a Tupolev Tu-154 carrying Russian children to a holiday in Spain collided near the Swiss-German border with a cargo plane.


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