Russia plane crash navigator was ‘lightly intoxicated’

The navigator of a Russian airliner that crashed in June killing 47 people was “in a light level of alcoholic intoxication”, an official report said on Monday.

A Tu-134 jet belonging to the airline RusAir hit a road a mile short of the runway at Petrozavodsk airport in north-west Russia on 20 June. Five people survived.

Russia’s interstate aviation committee, which oversees civil aviation in the country and several other former Soviet republics, said the “use during the flight of a navigator in a light level of alcoholic intoxication” was one of a number of factors that had contributed to the crash.

Other factors were heavy fog and poor co-operation among the crew during the landing attempt. The investigation 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 report said that the pilot had subordinated himself to the navigator with the co-pilot effectively excluded from decisions.

On Sunday, the 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 aircraft, but in poor crew training, crumbling airports, lax government controls and widespread neglect of safety in the pursuit of profits.

The death of 37 players, coaches and officials of a top Russian ice hockey team last week in a crash near Yaroslavl drew fresh attention to Russia’s poor air safety.

The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, responded to the crash by ordering officials to shut most of the country’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-built planes.

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

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