The pilot of the plane has now been charged with negligence over the deaths of 41 people on the aircraft at Sheremetyevo, Moscow’s business international airport.
It emerged of passengers escaping a burning aeroplane after it crash-landed when it was struck by lightning.
There were 37 survivors, including captain Denis Evdokimov, 42, who claims he is being made a scapegoat. After being struck by lightning but made a rough ‘jumping’ emergency landing on May 5 last year.
The first emergency slide was deployed 17 seconds after the plane came to a standstill and the second one opened after 30 seconds.
Yesterday, investigators accused Evdokimov of violating safety rules and negligent control of his plane leading mass deaths, harm to health and major damage. Air traffic control and emergency response teams were also investigated but were cleared of any wrongdoing.
The Russian Investigative Committee said in a statement: ‘Investigators and experts studied the data of the flight recorders of the crashed aircraft, according to which during the flight the aircraft adequately responded to the pilot’s control actions.’ Evdokimov’s lawyer Natalya Mitusova said he was being victimised to protect the reputation of Superjet, a Russian-made aircraft that has faced questions over safety.
She said the aeroplane did not follow his commands, but prosecutors say he botched the landing by coming in at too steep an angle. The landing gear pierced the fuel tank, causing a massive explosion, killing most of the victims by carbon monoxide poisoning. The captain also claims that once on the ground a rear plane door was opened in violation of his orders and this led to the inferno on the exterior of the Superjet engulfing the passenger cabin. Most passengers who died were sitting in the rear or middle section of the aircraft. Without the rear emergency door having been opened, passengers would have had time to leave the cabin, claims the pilot. ‘Someone from the crew or passengers opened the door, after which the fire entered the cabin,’ said Mitusova.
Evdokimov’s legal team also allege ground rescue services were slow to get to the scene. The video was cut so it is not possible to be sure of the time it took before spraying started – but passengers were still emerging at this point. Investigators say the Superjet has been struck by lightning on 16 previous occasions, but this was the only time it led to catastrophe. Heroic Aeroflot flight attendants saved dozens of those on board the Moscow to Murmansk flight but 41 perished in the inferno, either burned alive or overcome by toxic fumes. Prosecutors want a maximum seven-year jail sentence for Evdokimov, whose father was a respected military pilot and Soviet air force major general. Svetlana Petrenko, spokeswoman for the Russian Investigative Committee, said: ‘Actions by Evdokimov violated the existing regulations and led to the destruction and outbreak of fire. ‘As a result, 40 passengers.