By Jack Stubbs
The flight recorders from a passenger jet which crashed in southern Russia killing all 62 people on board are badly damaged and could take up to a month to decode, Russia’s airline regulator said on Sunday.
The Boeing 737-800 aircraft, operated by Dubai-based budget carrier Flydubai, crashed on its second attempt to land at Russia’s Rostov-on-Don airport in the early hours of Saturday morning. Most of those on board were Russian.
“The received recorders are badly damaged mechanically,” Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC) said in a statement on its website, alongside a photo of a crumpled recorder.
“Specialists … have started the inspection, opening and removing the memory modules from their protective coverings for further work to restore the cable connections and prepare to copy the data,” the IAC said.
RIA news agency cited an IAC official as saying it could take one month to decode information from the recorders.
Under international aviation rules, the investigation will be led by Russia’s air safety investigation agency with representatives from the United States, where the jet was made, and the United Arab Emirates, where the airline is based.
Flydubai’s CEO Ghaith al-Ghaith said at a news conference in Dubai on Sunday: “We have high confidence in the Russian authorities who are capable of managing local conditions for flights,” he said. “We fully trust the Russian authorities in this.”
Al-Ghaith said: “The airport was open. It was good enough to operate and good enough to land, as per the authorities.”
“The weather conditions were good enough for the flight.”
In Rostov-on-Don on Sunday, Russian workers continued to search the crash site in temperatures of minus 5 Celsius, sifting through snow-covered debris strewn across the airfield.
After laying flowers next to piles of candles, children’s toys and photos of the dead, Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said the airport would reopen on Monday morning.
“We mourn,” read an inscription listing the names of all 55 passengers and seven crew who died in the crash.
Al-Ghaith said on Saturday it was too early to determine the cause of the crash, but officials have suggested it could have been caused by pilot error, a technical problem or strong winds at the airport.
Flydubai said it had not cancelled or delayed any flights because of the crash.
The airline said in a statement it was organising hardship payments to families of the victims amounting to $20,000 per passenger, in accordance with its conditions of carriage.
Security services in the Middle East and Russia are on heightened alert for militant threats to aviation following the Islamic State claim of responsibility for downing a Russian passenger plane over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in late October.
The pilot of the doomed flight from Dubai to Russia was a Cypriot, and the co-pilot a Spaniard.
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.
According to RT on Sunday, at least three potential passengers narrowly escaped death having accidentally missed or abruptly canceled ther trips.
Elvira Isaeva, who was on vacation in the United Arab Emirates, was celebrating her friend’s birthday on Friday night and overslept, missing her airport transfer and, consequently, her flight. The woman says she cannot believe what happened, according to RT.
“I don’t know how it happened. It was sheer luck. I just overslept – and that’s it,” the weeping woman told Russia’s LifeNews. This information has been confirmed by deputy director of Elvira’s tour operator, Andrey Sevastyanov, who said that the woman will stay in Dubai for several more days, while the ‘Natalie Tours’ will pay both her stay and return tickets.
“I woke up to a phone-call from Rostov, where I bought the tour. I didn’t even understand what they meant when some trembling voice asked me: “Are you alive?”
“I said ‘Yes’ and went back to bed. And then, when I woke up and turned on the news, I was horrified. I do not know, is it my luck, a guardian angel watching over me or my mother’s prayers, but I’m in dismay,” Elvira said, retracing the events of her morning.
“I’m hurt and terrified by what happened there. There were people who came here with me, who I spent time here with…” she added, stating that she does not plan to change the company and will come home on the next FlyDubai flight to Rostov.
Another passenger had missed the trip to Dubai completely, but the tragedy still left him a widower.
A man from Rostov, whose name has not been disclosed to the media, is said to have lost his passport just days before a planned vacation in Dubai with his wife. Dmitry Arutyunov, the CEO of “Art-Tour” travel agency, told Interfax that four of their customers, or “two couples, were supposed to fly to Dubai on holiday and return on this flight,” RT said.
“The couple bought tickets to the UAE and had to fly from Rostov-on-Don to Dubai. However, the man had lost his passport, and remained in Russia, and his wife decided to fly without him,” he said, adding that the couple’s friends were also on board when the plane crashed.
The article also writes about a Rostov woman who had canceled her vacation in Dubai at the last moment for unknown reasons. Ekaterina S was supposed to fly to Dubai with her son, but abruptly changed her mind.
However, her cousin with a spouse along with her husband’s brother with his girlfriend took the fatal trip. RT said media reports claim that Ekaterina found out about the incident from the news. She is reportedly refusing to speak to anyone.
On Sunday, relatives and friends of those who died were gathering at the airport in Rostov-on-Don, laying flowers in memory of their lost loved ones.