Weather most likely cause of FlyDubai crash, experts say

Both black boxes were recovered quickly from the small, scattered debris of flight FZ981 but the exact cause of the crash has yet to be determined.

Scattered debris, some of it 1.5km from the crash site, tells the story of devastation at Rostoc-on-Don, Russia, where FlyDubai Flight FZ981 crashes on Saturday, killing all 63 on board. AFP
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ABU DHABI // A sudden gust of wind is cited as a possible reason for flight FZ981 missing the runway and exploding on impact.

Both black boxes were recovered quickly from the debris of the plane in Rostov-On-Don but the cause of the crash was yet to be determined.

Several planes had trouble landing at the airport at the time of the crash. One tried to touch down three times before the crew gave up and the plane was diverted to another airport.

CCTV footage showed the plane descending at a steep angle and exploding. The powerful blast put a big crater in the runway and obliterated the aircraft.

In Russia, the governor of the Rostov region, Vasily Golubev, said that the plane crashed about 250 metres short of the runway.

“By all appearances, the cause of the air crash was the strongly gusting wind, approaching a hurricane level,” he said.

According to weather data reported by Russian state television, when the FlyDubai plane first tried to land, winds at ground level were not dangerously strong, but at an altitude of 500 metres (1,640 feet) and higher, they reached a near-hurricane force of about 30 metres per second (67 miles per hour).

When the plane crashed, winds near the surface reached 22 metres per second (49 miles per hour) and could have been even stronger at altitude.

Russian air crash investigators flew to the scene and the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), Boeing and the National Transport Safety Board went to Moscow before a mission to the crash site.

A FlyDubai spokesman said: “We can confirm that both black box flight recorders have been recovered from the crash site by the local accident investigation team and we continue to do all we can to assist their work.”

Saj Ahmad, the chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, said that the fact the plane circled for two hours before making a second attempt at landing was unusual.

“Second-guessing is irresponsible but what is worrying is that the aeroplane circled for almost two hours prior to making a second attempt at landing,” he said.

“Why it wasn’t diverted to Moscow, which was less than 90 minutes away, is a serious question that all parties investigating this crash will examine closely.

“While Krasnodar airport was closer, the weather there, too, was reported to have been poor. If the FlyDubai jet had fuel reserves to circle for two hours, [and could have headed] to a less disruptive weather area such as Moscow, despite snow there, we have to determine why that or another airport was not selected for an alternative landing attempt,” Mr Ahmad said.

“All aeroplanes are susceptible to adverse weather conditions. We only have to hark back to the Air France AF447 crash in June 2009 to see that wide-bodies, as well as narrow-body jets, can crash in dangerous weather. But, at this stage, it’s too premature to single out or state with any guarantee what the causes were in this tragic FlyDubai crash.”

Two officials from the GCAA sent their condolences. They said they will be working with Russian authorities.

“We are extremely sad over this tragic accident, and extend our sincere sympathy to all the families and their loved ones”, said Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri, Minister of Economy and chairman of the GCAA.

Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, GCAA director general, said: “Being the responsible body for the investigation into air accidents in the UAE, the air accident investigation unit of the GCAA will participate in the investigation by accredited representative and advisers who have been deployed to work closely with the Russian authorities to conduct the investigation according to international standards.”

The UAE Embassy in Russia has opened an office to follow the developments of the plane crash, provide support for families of the victims and respond to all enquiries, he said.

He said FlyDubai has a modern fleet of aircraft and professional crews. “The accident was likely caused by poor weather but we are not confirming. We are moving based on facts,” Mr Al Suwaidi said.

In a short statement, Boeing said it is ready to provide technical assistance on [the] FZ981 [crash].

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and chairman of Emirates Group, the parent company of FlyDubai, said Dubai Government will spare no effort to provide the families of the victims of the crash with all forms of support.

In Russia, one of the country’s biggest airlines, Aeroflot, announced that it would cancel all flights to and from Rostov-on-Don yesterday and today. The country’s ministry of emergency situations hotline received 900 calls regarding the crash yesterday, officials said

* With AP