Russian Officials Blame Pilot Error in May Plane Crash That Killed 113

Russian air safety officials said Wednesday that the crash of a commercial airline in May that killed 113 people was due to pilot error.

The pilots of the Airbus-320 operated by Armenia's Armavia airline allowed the plane to descend too low as it faced bad weather on its approach to the airport outside the Russian resort town of Sochi, Tatyana Anodina, the head of a civil aviation agency that links Russia with 11 other ex-Soviet republics, said on Russian television.

Anodina added that an automated system warned the two pilots that the plan was flying dangerously low, but that a last-ditch effort to gain altitude failed to head off the crash into the Black Sea, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Everyone on board died in the catastrophe, which came a month before the crash of an S7 Airlines A-310 in Irkutsk, in which 125 people died.

Also Wednesday, Transportation Minister Igor Levitin announced that the families of the 26 Russian citizens who died in the crash outside Sochi would receive payments of about US$3,700 (euro3,000), on top of US$9,300 (euro7,300) from regional authorities.

Anodina's agency, the Interstate Aviation Committee, particularly blamed the plane's commanding officer for causing the crash.

Facing bad visibility and driving rain, the commander took the plane off autopilot as it flew 340 meters (1,115 feet) above the Black Sea, causing the flight crew to lose control of the aircraft, according to IAC conclusions reported by the RIA-Novosti news agency.

The IAC found that the crew's subsequent attempts to raise the plane's altitude were uncoordinated and insufficient, RIA-Novosti said.

The crash outside Sochi and the accident on the runway of the Irkutsk airport last month have focused attention on Russia's air safety record. Airline experts said that though Russia's safety record is not yet up to Western standards, it is far better than during the chaotic post-Soviet period, when the state carrier Aeroflot split into hundreds of private carriers, many of which lacked funds to properly maintain and service their planes.

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