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Monday, 13 August, 2001, 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK
Was Russian plane lost for $280?
Siberia crash
Crash investigators have suggested a disastrous airline crash in Russia was caused by worries over using too much fuel.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov had said human error had caused the crash in July of an airliner in Siberia in which all 144 people on board died.

Few papers believed him, and the Moscow magazine Ogonek has published documents that suggest the pilots had unwittingly endangered the plane because they feared a wage cut if they used up too much fuel.

A report by crash investigators suggests that the pilots of the Tupolev 154, owned by the small firm Vladivostok-Avia, lost control of the plane by taking it into too steep a descent into Irkutsk airport in Siberia.

Difficult approach

The approach to the airport is notoriously difficult, and it appears from the report that the pilots decided not to take the usual course of a second circuit to reduce altitude as they entered radar surveillance on 4 July.

Instead they took the plane in at a sharp but not unfeasible angle, which seems to have caused the autopilot to pull the nose up in response to the pilots' attempts to reduce speed.

This in turn stalled the plane at 800 metres - too low for the pilots to pull it out of its fatal plunge to the ground.

Second circuit skipped

Why did the pilots skip the second circuit?

After paraphrasing the highly technical report, Ogonek said: "Small airlines... economise on fuel. If a pilot had to perform a second circuit through some minor miscalculation of his own, they could simply deduct the overspending on fuel from his salary.

Better to risk it and save a hundred bucks

Ogonek magazine

"Not formally, of course: no one has the right to punish a pilot for such a decision. But... a tonne of kerosene costs $280.... An extra circuit uses up half a tonne. Better to risk it and save a hundred bucks."

Officials like Mr Klebanov had been quick to blame pilot error because the plane's landing gear had already been deployed for landing.

The crash investigators' report suggests a combination of minor miscalculations had toppled the risk of approaching after one circuit into the certainty of a fatal crash.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

03 Jul 01 | Europe
Siberia air crash kills 143
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