Russian passenger jet crashes on Indonesian demonstration flight

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

A plane built by Russia's Sukhoi has crashed in Indonesia with around 50 people on board during a demonstration flight to potential customers. The Superjet 100 struck a cliff as it descended over mountains near Jakarta.

The aircraft departed Halim Perdanakusuma Airport at around 2pm local time yesterday and was due to return 50 minutes later. A search and rescue mission was dispatched to West Java, where the aircraft crashed in the Salak mountain range. Bad weather and nightfall initially hampered rescue efforts but a helicopter found the crash site after dawn.

Sukhoi's first-ever Superjet 100 on display, from file. Credit:Marina Lystseva

Everything reportedly was normal that day on a preflight check and earlier demonstration flight. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev today ordered an investigation into the accident, while Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono today said "I expect that there will be a full and careful investigation".

Those on board include journalists, Russian diplomats, and representatives of prospective customer airlines. The flight crew had requested permission for a descent from 10,000ft to 6,000ft shortly before contact was lost. It struck a 7,000ft mountain and the reason for the descent is not immediately apparent. The jet was touring Asia on a sales promotion with stops including Pakistan, Vietnam, Laos, Kazakhstan, and Burma.

With a maiden flight in 2008, several Superjet 100s are in service and Sukhoi boasts orders for about 200 more. The first newly-designed post-Soviet Russian airliner, a commercial offering by military planemaker Sukhoi, it seats around 100 and retails for US$31.7 million. This is cheaper than products from Canada; and Sukhoi has sought the services of Western firms including Thales of France and Finmeccanica of Italy, potentially mitigating safety fears about Soviet-era technology.

Sukhoi's top test pilot, Alexander Yablontsev, and co-pilot Alexander Kochetkov reportedly were due to be at the controls of the crashed plane. The exact number on board is reported as being from 44 to 50. Sukhoi Civil Aircraft boss Vladimir Prisyazhnyuk said the flight carried eight, including technical staff, from Russia; two from Italy; and one each from France and the United States. The wreckage is in small pieces and, following unconfirmed reports saying bodies were seen, a search team reported no survivors found but several corpses.

So far, Aeroflot of Russia and Armavia of Armenia are the only airlines to have brought the jet into service. Mexico has recently given approval to the plane, allowing Western operator Interjet to join the Russian airlines before year's end. Sukhoi hopes to scale up production, presently below planned levels, and already has firm deals in place in Asia including with Kartika Airlines of Indonesia.