Crash pilot had ignored orders

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The Independent Online

The pilot of the Aeroflot jet that crashed killing all 88 people on board ignored commands from air traffic controllers, probably contributing to Russia's worst air disaster in two years, according to news reports.

Officials blamed a faulty engine for the crash on Sunday of the Boeing 737-500 in the Ural Mountains city of Perm but wouldn't comment on the controllers' claim pending an official investigation.

However, Alexander Bastrykin, the chief of the federal Investigative Committee, said the jet's right engine apparently failed and caught fire as the plane was preparing to land in rainy weather.

Flight 821, operated by a subsidiary of national flag carrier Aeroflot, carried 82 passengers and six crew members, Aeroflot said. Company officials said the plane was circling at about 3,600 feet in "difficult weather conditions" — including low cloud cover and rain — when it went down.

Flight controller Irek Bikbov told state-run Channel One TV yesterday that the pilot was behaving strangely, disobeying orders to descend on the final approach and instead taking the jet to a higher altitude.

"I informed the pilot that he has reached a point where he should go down," Bikbov said in an audio recording broadcast on TV. "He confirmed he was going down but kept climbing."

Bikbov then ordered the pilot to make a second run, but instead of making the right turn he turned left.

When he asked the pilot whether things were normal on board, the pilot answered positively but his voice was strained as if under stress, Bikbov said.

"He was behaving in a strange manner and wasn't following my orders," Bikbov said. The last thing controllers heard was a scream in the cockpit seconds before the plane crashed.

The plane's flight recorders have been found, and official said it would take at least three weeks to analyze them.