Brake System Is Focus In Russia Crash Probe

Wreckage of the Airbus A-310 that crashed on landing in Irkutsk, killing 124.
Wreckage of the Airbus A-310 that crashed on landing in Irkutsk, killing 124. (Associated Press)
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 10, 2006

MOSCOW, July 9 -- Investigators examining the charred remains of a Russian airliner that skidded off a rain-slick runway and crashed Sunday in Siberia, killing at least 124 people, are focusing on the possibility that the plane's hydraulic brake system failed upon landing, according to news reports.

Preliminary data indicate that "after landing, the aircraft's brake system failed, causing the failure of the system's other mechanisms," an unidentified investigator told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti. "As a result, the aircraft became uncontrollable after landing."

The Airbus A-310 operated by S7 Airlines was carrying 204 people, including eight crew members and 14 children younger than 12, when it crashed Sunday morning in the city of Irkutsk, according to the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry.

Officials reported that 58 people were hospitalized, some with severe burns, and that six of the children on board survived. Twelve people were well enough to return home after the crash, officials said. Several people remained unaccounted for and were presumed dead, they said.

Airline officials said 11 foreigners were on board Flight 778: three from China, two from Germany, two from Poland, two from Moldova and two from South Korea. It was unclear if any of the foreign citizens survived.

Officials said they would begin to identify the bodies of the dead Monday morning.

Some of the passengers were headed to nearby Lake Baikal, the world's most voluminous freshwater lake and a popular tourist spot. S7, formerly Sibir Airlines, Russia's second-largest carrier, has an extensive network of destinations in Siberia. The company said the plane was manufactured in 1987 and had made more than 10,000 flights.

The crash was the second involving an Airbus in Russia in the past two months. On May 3, a plane operated by the Armenian national carrier, Armavia, crashed as it approached the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. The cause of that crash, which killed all 113 passengers and crew members, is still under investigation.

President Vladimir Putin immediately ordered the creation of a commission to investigate Sunday's crash and to provide all necessary assistance to the families of the victims, according to the Kremlin press service. Airbus officials said they would help with the investigation.

Putin declared Monday a national day of mourning.

The plane, which had departed from Moscow, veered off the runway, slammed through a concrete barrier and burst into flames at 7:44 a.m., according to accounts from the scene. Officials said it took two hours to put out the fire and that 600 workers took part in rescue efforts.

Officials also said that they had recovered the flight data recorders from the plane and that they appeared undamaged.

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