Indonesian investigators yesterday blamed pilot error for the deadly crash in May of a new Sukhoi Superjet, post-Soviet Russia's first passenger plane, which slammed into a volcano during a promotional flight.
The flight, with a veteran pilot at the controls, was planned as a 40-minute joy ride to showcase the new Russian plane to prospective buyers in Indonesia.
Instead, the twin-engine Sukhoi Superjet 100 slammed into the 2,200-metre Mount Salak volcano, killing all 45 on board in a blow to Russia's bid to improve the image of its aviation industry.
However, the National Transport Safety Committee (KNKT) absolved Sukhoi of responsibility for the crash, ruling out technical failures in its report.
The safety board found that the aircraft's terrain awareness and warning system (Taws) had sent multiple alerts to the pilot, who switched off the device before the crash.
"The Taws had sent a 'terrain ahead' warning before the crash, followed by six 'avoid terrain' warnings. The pilot in command switched the Taws off as he assumed there was a database problem," KNKT chief Tatang Kurniadi said.
"The crash could have been avoided if a recovery action was carried out within 24 seconds from the first warning," he said.
Photos of an earlier demonstration flight on the same day as the May 9 accident showed relaxed passengers smiling on board, being treated to champagne, as well as cheerful Russian and Indonesian crew members posing outside the jet.
Questions immediately swirled over the how the crash could have occurred with veteran Russian pilot Alexander Yablontsev at the controls.
The voice data recorder revealed that a potential buyer had been in the cockpit for 38 minutes, almost the entire flight, to discuss the jet's fuel usage, causing a "diversion of attention" during which the plane flew off course.
A KNKT statement said that all the warning systems were working well.
Russian ambassador to Indonesia Mikhail Yurievich Galuzin welcomed the findings and said Russia had co-operated in the "objective and balanced" investigation. Indonesia last month deemed the Superjet 100 technically fit for its skies, and the jet has already been certified as airworthy in Europe.
The safety board's findings clear the way for the company to begin delivery of 42 aircraft to two local carriers, Kartika Airlines and Sky Aviation, with each jet priced at around US$30 million.