Russian lawyer attacks top aviation authority

November 30, 2011 - 9:35 AM
Russia Aviation Safety

FILE In this Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011 file photo, divers search the wreckage at a crash site near Yaroslavl, on the Volga River about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of Moscow. Prominent Russian lawyer Igor Trunov said Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011 he would go to Russia's top court to challenge the authority of the Interstate Aviation Committee, saying its broad powers violate the Russian law and have contributed to the September's crash and other recent air disasters. (AP Photo/ Maxim Shipenkov, pool, file)

MOSCOW (AP) — A prominent Russian lawyer said Wednesday he will challenge the powers of a regional aviation watchdog following a crash that killed Russia's entire professional ice hockey team and other recent air disasters that have raised concerns about the nation's air safety.

Igor Trunov said he will ask Russia's Supreme Court to trim the authority of the Interstate Aviation Committee, which was formed in 1992 by 12 nations of the former Soviet Union. The Moscow-based body employs mostly Russian staff and serves both as the top certification authority for Russia's civil aviation and the nation's top crash investigation body.

Trunov said a conflict of interest keeps the body from objectively investigating crashes and leads to new disasters.

"This monopoly on power and on investigations has prevented the IAC from naming officials responsible and led it to blame everything on the dead," Trunov said at a news conference. "It leads to impunity."

IAC officials declined to comment.

Trunov said he would file the appeal on behalf of relatives of the victims of several recent crashes, including the Sept. 7 one of the Yak-42 plane near Yaroslavl, which killed 44, among them 36 players, coaches and staff of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team that contained some former NHL stars.

It was one of the worst aviation disasters ever in sports, shocking Russia and the world of hockey. The only player who survived the crash later died of burns, leaving a flight engineer as the sole survivor.

The Interstate Aviation Committee concluded its probe earlier this month, saying that a pilot had caused the crash by inadvertently putting the wheel brakes on during takeoff. It also pointed to lax oversight and insufficient crew training as key reasons behind the error.

Trunov argued that the IAC's probe failed to determine the true cause and that the government must open a new investigation. He was backed by several veteran pilots, who said the IOC's verdict had left some key questions unanswered.

Vladimir Gerasimov, a former top crash investigator, said that the IOC's claim that the plane crashed just a couple of seconds after taking off didn't seem plausible.

Alexander Akimenkov, a decorated test pilot, agreed with that and said the probe also failed to determine the reason for the plane banking sharply on its left wing.

Trunov said that one possible cause for the crash could be bad fuel, even though officials said it was fine.

Yevgeny Sarmatov, whose wife, a flight attendant, died in the crash, said that the crew often had been forced by the plane's owners to buy fuel for cash and its quality could have been substandard.

Gerasimov said the plane's owner, Yak-Service, had been checked for compliance with regulations twice this year before the crash and received clearance.

The company was stripped of its license following the September's crash.