Report: Navigator in fatal Russian crash drunk

September 19, 2011 - 5:10 AM

MOSCOW (AP) — The navigator of a passenger airliner that crashed in June killing 47 people was drunk, one of several contributing factors in the disaster, Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee said Monday.

The Tu-134 jet belonging to the airline RusAir slammed into a highway just minutes before it was to land June 20 at Petrozavodsk airport in northwest Russia. Five people survived.

The committee said there appeared to be a number of factors in the crash.

First, it occurred in heavy fog. The investigation also showed that the crew could not see the runway's ground lights, but did not decide to turn away and make another attempt at landing, the committee said on its website. The plane hit nearby trees before crashing.

The report said cooperation among the crew during the landing attempt was poor, with the pilot subordinating himself to the navigator and the co-pilot effectively excluded from decisions.

Some models of the Tu-134, such as the 31-year-old one that crashed, have a navigator position in the glass-covered nose of the plane. The crashed plane also was crewed by a pilot, a co-pilot and a flight engineer, the committee said.

"The use during the flight of a navigator in a light level of alcoholic intoxication," contributed to the crash, said the committee, which oversees civil aviation in Russia and several other former Soviet republics.

On Sunday, state television channel Rossiya said experts believe the navigator, who was among those killed in the crash, had consumed about a glass of vodka shortly before the flight took off from Moscow.

Russia and other former Soviet republics have had poor air safety records in recent years. Industry experts say the air disasters are rooted not simply in flying older planes, but in a myriad of other problems, including poor crew training, crumbling airports, lax government controls and widespread neglect of safety in the pursuit of profits.

The Sept. 7 plane crash near Yaroslavl that killed 37 players, coaches and officials of a top Russian ice hockey team drew new attention to Russia's poor air safety.

President Dmitry Medvedev responded to the Sept. 7 crash by ordering officials to shut most of the nation's 130 carriers, saying small airlines tend to cut corners on safety. He also said the government may end attempts to bail out struggling national aircraft makers and buy more foreign planes.

"The value of human life must prevail over all other considerations, such as support for local producers," Medvedev said.