A Turkish cargo plane crashed outside the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, early on January 16, killing at least 37 people and destroying dozens of homes.
According to preliminary and unconfirmed information, the Boeing 747-400F crashed on a cluster of homes in the Dacha-Suu complex next to Manas International Airport at around 7:29 a.m. as it was coming in to land.
Officials said 37 people have been killed, but with recovery work still ongoing it will be some time before a final figure is confirmed. There are believed to be several children among the dead.
Deputy Prime Minister Muhammetkaly Abulgaziyev has said that the accident may have been caused by pilot error and that 11 airplanes had landed safely in the past day despite heavy fog. Abulgaziyev said that the plane tried to land on two occasions and at one stage damaged the landing strip illumination.
“This crew has flown [to Manas airport] 3-4 times. They know the landing strip at Manas airport. The visibility was 400 meters. That is why the flight controller at Kyrgyzaeronavigatsiya gave them clearance to land. The conditions were suitable for landing. So the provisional explanation is that the crash was due to crew error,” Abulgaziyev was quoted as saying by local media.
While officials have said the conditions were good enough for the cargo plane to land, an aircraft carrying President Almazbek Atambayev to Bishkek from China on January 15 was diverted to the small Tamchy airport in the Issyk-Kul region because of the weather. Motorists driving around Bishkek on the eve of the crash reported being able to see only a few meters ahead because of the fog.
Tajikistan’s Transportation Ministry has grounded all flights by Tajik-registered cargo company Asia Airways after one of the company’s Antonov-12 jets crashed in South Sudan.
Despite that precautionary measure, officials in Tajikistan are stressing that they deem the craft’s operator, which they say is Armenian company Ala International Limited, ultimately responsible for maintenance of the plane.
The head of the Transportation Ministry civil aviation department, Yusuf Rahmonov, said in remarks reported by Asia-Plus that authorities in South Sudan are now investigating the causes of the accident, which killed around 40 people. The crew on the Antonov, which was built at a factory in Uzbekistan in 1971, reportedly included citizens of Russia and Armenia.
But Armenian authorities have been quick to deny their liability and appear eager to pass the buck back to Tajikistan.
A spokesman for the national aviation authorities in Yerevan, Ruben Grdzelian, has said that neither Ala International Limited nor the Antonov are registered in Armenia, RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
“Eight air companies are registered in Armenia, and Ala International Ltd, which owned the An-12 that crashed in South Sudan, was not among them. Moreover, the national registration signs of the An-12 — EY-406 — is a sign for Tajikistan. So it is obvious that the plane was registered in that country,” Grdzelian was quoted as saying.
Kazakhstan suffered its second fatal plane crash in just over a month on January 29, when a domestic passenger flight arriving in Almaty crashed in bad weather, killing all 21 people aboard.
The SCAT Airlines Bombardier Challenger CRJ-200 crashed at around 1:00 p.m. as it was landing at Almaty airport in heavy fog, hitting the ground five kilometers outside Kazakhstan’s financial capital, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. The statement contained a preliminary list of the dead: five crew members and 16 passengers who were on the flight from the northern town of Kokshetau.
The prosecutor’s office said it had already opened a criminal case into the crash, the second in the space of just over a month: On December 25, a military aircraft crashed near Shymkent, killing all 27 people on board. The dead included the acting head of Kazakhstan’s Border Service, Turganbek Stambekov, and other senior border officials.
An investigation blamed technical failure combined with pilot error for that crash, which, like today’s disaster, occurred in bad weather. Kazakhstan’s airports are frequently closed due to adverse weather conditions, but – despite heavy fog blanketing the city on January 29 – Almaty airport was open for business.
Almost nine percent of Tupolev-134s ever manufactured have crashed.
Frequent flyers in Kyrgyzstan know the feeling: An aging Soviet-built plane starts to careen over the high Tien Shan mountains; perhaps familiar with the horrifying statistics, men and women scream, a few vomit, and the drunk in the next seat grabs your knee as if it’s an emergency eject button.
After the longest 15 seconds ever, the pilot pulls back onto course and, when he lands, you remember to breathe. But every once in a while these poorly maintained aircraft just don’t make it, and parliament again declares itself outraged.
On December 28, 31 people were injured when a Tupolev-134 operated by Kyrgyzstan Airlines flipped and caught fire while landing in bad weather in Osh. The plane was carrying 82.
Of course, such an accident was only a matter of time. Even to a casual observer, Kyrgyzstan’s red-and-blue striped, Soviet-built Tu-134 seemed long past any safe operational life. There was the goo dripping from the ceiling, the permanently fogged windows, and the burn marks on the underside of the wing. But the airplane graveyard at the end of Bishkek’s runway has long ago been cannibalized of any useful spare parts.
And then there is the Tu-134’s safety record – after one crashed near Petrozavodsk, Russia, last summer, Russian state media reported that (as of June) 8.5 percent of all Tu-134s ever manufactured had crashed.