The Cypriot pilot of the Flydubai passenger plane which crashed on a flight from Dubai to Russia on Saturday, killing 62 people, was supposed to return to Cyprus with his pregnant wife shortly, after signing a new employment contract.
Aristos Sokratous, 37, from Limassol used to work for the defunct Helios Airways, the airline which was shut down after its 737 Boeing crashed en route from Larnaca to Athens killing 121 people in August 2005
This was reportedly one of the last flights Sokratous was going to be flying for the airline as he had been hired by Ryanair and was going to return to the island within the next few weeks or even days.
He leaves behind a pregnant wife, who was expecting their son.
Sokratous had studied at Oxford Aviation Academy and had moved to Dubai after Helios closed down.
Reports said this was the first time Sokratous was attempting to land at the airport in Rostov-on-Don.
President Nicos Anastasiades expressed his shock and sorrow over the loss of 62 lives and extended his condolences to the families of the victims, the Russian people and the Russian government.
“To the family of Aristos Sokratous, in particular, President Anastasiades expresses his deepest condolences and declares his support during this time of great pain they are experiencing for the untimely loss of the pilot” he said in a statement.
The Investigative Committee of Russia said it was looking into a pilot error or a technical failure as the most likely causes for the plane crash that killed 62 in southern Russia, Russian news agencies reported.
“At present, we are looking into two main theories for the plane crash in Rostov-on-Don: pilot error in connection with deteriorating weather conditions or a technical error,” Interfax news agency cited a representative of the Committee, Oksana Kovrizhnaya, as saying.
Russia’s emergencies ministry said the aircraft, a Boeing 737-800 operated by Dubai-based budget carrier Flydubai, crashed at 0340 (0040 GMT). Most of those on board were Russian.
“The aircraft hit the ground and broke into pieces,” the Investigative Committee of Russia said in a statement on its website. “There were 55 passengers aboard and seven crew members. They all died.”
Six out of seven crew members were foreigners.
Both of the plane’s flight recorders have been recovered undamaged, the committee said in a statement.
“Different versions of what happened are being looked into, including crew error, a technical failure and bad weather conditions,” the committee said.
Flydubai’s CEO Ghaith al-Ghaith told a press conference in the Gulf Arab emirate that it was “too early” to determine the cause of the crash.
“We will have information about the circumstances of the incident and the black box in the future, and an investigation is being conducted in cooperation with the Russian authorities and we are waiting to see the results,” Ghaith said.
Dubai’s civil aviation authority said it was sending an investigative team to Russia, president Ismail al Hosani told reporters.
The plane was in a mid-air holding pattern for about two hours and the crash occurred more than two hours after the plane, flight number FZ981, was scheduled to land.
The plane came down inside the airport’s perimeter, about 250 metres short of the start of the runway.
The plane’s wing hit the ground on its second attempt to land and burst into flames, the Rostov region’s emergency ministry said in a statement.
Grainy pictures from a security camera pointing towards the airport, which were broadcast on Russian television, showed a large explosion at ground level, with flames and sparks leaping high into the air.
According to the Flight Safety Foundation, there was strong wind with a speed of 12 metres per second, with gusts up to 19 metres, but visibility was reasonable.
Ghaith of Flydubai said that he had no information to indicate that the pilot had issued a distress call and said both the pilot and co-pilot, a Spaniard, each had over 5,000 hours of flight experience.
The crash is the budget airline’s first since it started flying in May 2009. It last suffered a major safety incident when one of its planes was shot at while landing at Baghdad airport on Jan. 27, 2015.
Flydubai said in a statement that there were 44 Russians among the 55 passengers, eight Ukrainians, two Indians and one Uzbek. Four children were among the dead.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered for assistance to be given to the relatives of those killed.
“The head of state said that now the main thing is to work with the families and the loved ones of those who had died,” the Kremlin said in a statement on its website.