Russia blames pilot error for hockey plane crash

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Russian investigators on Wednesday blamed pilot error for a crash that killed members of a top ice hockey team, saying that one of the two pilots in the cockpit had also taken a banned barbiturate.

As the plane took off from the central Russian city of Yaroslavl two months ago, one of the pilots accidentally pressed his feet on the brakes, the Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK) said in a report published on its website.

"The direct reason of the crash of the Yak-42 plane .. were the mistaken actions of the crew in pressing the brake pedals," said MAK, which investigates air disasters in former Soviet republics.

"The braking could have been carried out by the commander who was carrying out active piloting, or the second pilot," chairman of the technical commission of MAK, Alexei Morozov, said in a televised presentation.

The Russian-made Yak-42 crashed on September 7 shortly after take-off, killing 44 people, including players and support staff from Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team, prompting an international outpouring of grief.

The MAK report was the latest in a series of conclusions on Russian air accidents to blame human error rather than ageing Soviet-designed aircraft.

The plane belonging to the small Yak-Servis airline overran the airstrip, wheeled for a further 450 metres (about 1,500 feet) and then took off, hitting a radio aerial.

After reaching a height of five to six metres, it crashed and burst into flames.

The postmortem also found that the second pilot had taken phenobarbital, a barbiturate medication banned for use by pilots that would have slowed down his reactions, the committee said.

"In the body of the second pilot was discovered phenobarbital, a medication that slows down the central nervous system and banned for use by pilots," Morozov.

The second pilot had been diagnosed with nerve problems in his arms and legs that meant he would have difficulty in sensing how his feet were placed, Morozov said, adding that the condition should have banned him from flying.

The crash prompted Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev to order his government to shut down unreliable airlines and raise penalties for air safety violations.

© 2011 AFP

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