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Sun 20 Mar 2016 09:39 AM

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FZ981: What we know so far

Few questions into a Flydubai plane crash that killed 62 people in Russia on Saturday have been answered so far but CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith is calling on the public not to speculate

FZ981: What we know so far
Russian emergency rescuers and forensic investigators work on the wreckage of the flydubai passenger jet which crashed, killing all 62 people on board as it tried to land in bad weather in the city of Rostov-on-Don on March 19, 2016. (AFP/Getty Images)

The boss of Flydubai has urged the public not to speculate on what caused a plane crash in Russia, killing all 62 people on board on Saturday morning.

Black boxes were quickly recovered from the crash site and investigations have started into why the Boeing 737-800 blew apart when attempting to land for a second time at Rostov-on-Don airport amid extremely high winds.

The Investigative Committee of Russia said it is looking into a pilot error or a technical failure as the most likely causes for the plane crash, Russian news agencies reported.

"The aircraft hit the ground and broke into pieces," the Investigative Committee of Russia said in a statement on its website. "Different versions of what happened are being looked into, including crew error, a technical failure and bad weather conditions.”

But Flydubai CEO Ghaith Al Ghaith called on commentators not to speculate.

“What was the weather exactly? How did that affect this unfortunate accident? It’s too early to tell. We cannot speculate,” Al Ghaith said at a press conference on Saturday.

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.

Russian state television reported that when the Flydubai plane first tried to land, winds at ground level were not dangerous but at an altitude above 500 metres (1,640 feet) and higher, they reached a near-hurricane force of about 67 miles per hour (107km/h).

At the time of the crash, the winds had subsided slightly to about 49 miles per hour.

The plane had been circling for two hours prior to attempting to land again, leading to questions as to why it did not divert to a safer airport.

Strategic Aero Research chief analyst Saj Ahmad said the pilot’s actions prior to the crash were unusual.

“Second-guessing is irresponsible but what is worrying is that the aeroplane circled for almost two hours prior to making a second attempt at landing," he told The National newspaper.

Ghaith Al Ghaith, Chief Executive Officer of Flydubai. (Getty Images)

“Why it wasn’t diverted to Moscow, which was less than 90 minutes away, is a serious question that all parties investigating this crash will examine closely.

“While Krasnodar airport was closer, the weather there, too, was reported to have been poor. If the Flydubai jet had fuel reserves to circle for two hours, [and could have headed] to a less disruptive weather area such as Moscow, despite snow there, we have to determine why that or another airport was not selected for an alternative landing attempt.

“All aeroplanes are susceptible to adverse weather conditions. We only have to hark back to the Air France AF447 crash in June 2009 to see that wide-bodies, as well as narrow-body jets, can crash in dangerous weather. But, at this stage, it’s too premature to single out or state with any guarantee what the causes were in this tragic Flydubai crash."

Al Ghaith responded at the press conference, telling reporters, “you cannot land without authority by ATC [air traffic control]”.

“We have not seen anything [that] would suggest an alternative [airport] was on the cards,” he said.

“As far as we know the airport was open and we were good to operate.”

Four investigators from the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GACA), as well as experts from Flydubai, plane maker Boeing and the US National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) have flown to Russia to assist with the investigation.

Russian authorities said they also had opened a criminal investigation to consider any “violation of air safety rules”. Such an investigation is common practice in some countries, although Al Gaith said on Saturday he had not been informed of the criminal investigation.

GCAA director general Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi said Flydubai had a modern fleet of aircraft and professional crews.

“The accident was likely caused by poor weather but we are not confirming. We are moving based on facts," he said.

The two pilots of Flight 981, from Cyprus and Spain, had a combined flying time of 11,734 hours, Al Ghaith said.

There were 55 passengers and 5 other crew members on board. FlyDubai said the passengers included 33 women, 18 men and four children. There were 44 Russians, eight Ukrainians, two Indians and one Uzbekistani. The crew members were two women and five men, with two from Spain and one each from Cyprus, Kyrgyzstan, Seychelles, Russia and Colombia.

Flydubai said the victims’ families would receive compensation, amounting to $20,000 each.

"Our primary concern is for the families of the passengers and crew who were on board. Everyone at FlyDubai is in deep shock and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those involved,” Al Gaith said.

“We are making every effort to care for those affected and will provide assistance to the loved ones of those on board," Al Gaith said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also 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.

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