MOSCOW – The pilots of a Boeing 737 that plunged to earth at the Kazan airport, killing all 50 aboard, lost speed in a steep climb then overcompensated and sent the plane into a near-vertical dive, according to a preliminary report released Tuesday by Russian aviation experts.
The Moscow-based Interstate Aviation Committee, which oversees civil flights in much of the former Soviet Union, said the plane's engines and other systems were working fine until the moment the plane hit the ground Sunday night.
It said the plane's two pilots had failed to make a proper landing approach on the first attempt and then began a second run.
They put the plane's engines on maximum power, raising the plane's nose up at a sharp angle, causing a quick loss of speed.
At an altitude of about 2,200 feet, the crew then tried to gain speed by taking the plane into a dive but it hit the ground at a near-vertical angle in a spectacular crash.
The report drew its conclusions from data retrieved from one of the plane's onboard black box recorders. It said the climb and the subsequent plunge lasted only about one minute.
The plane struck the ground at about 280 mph, the report said.
The plane belonging to Tatarstan Airlines was coming from Moscow into the central city of Kazan, 450 miles to the east, the capital of the republic of Tatarstan.
A brief video taken by an airport security camera showed the plane going down at high speed at a nearly vertical angle and then hitting the ground and exploding.
Such "loss of control" accidents, as they are called in the aviation industry, are responsible for more deaths than any other type of air crash because they are rarely survivable, according to the Flight Safety Foundation, an industry-supported global aviation safety nonprofit based in Alexandria, Virginia.
Company records showed the plane was built 23 years ago and had been used by seven other carriers prior to being picked up by Tatarstan Airlines in 2008.
In 2001, it was damaged in a landing accident in Brazil that injured no one.
The company has insisted that the aircraft was in good condition and the pilots were experienced.
The carrier has had a good safety record but appears to have run into financial problems recently. Its personnel went on strike in September over back wages, and the Kazan airport authority has gone to arbitration to claim what it said was Tatarstan Airlines' debt for servicing its planes.
Industry experts have blamed some recent Russian crashes on a cost-cutting mentality that neglects safety in the chase for profits. Insufficient pilot training and lax government controls over the industry also have been cited as factors affecting Russian flight safety.