Did alcohol cause Russian plane crash?




Was the man navigating the Tu-134 jet that crashed in northern Russia this week drunk?

According to Life News (a tabloid, but one that often gets things right), he might have been. The plane’s 50-year-old navigator was tested for alcohol at 9:05pm, before he took off, and was totally sober, it says, citing a member of the doctors’ crew at Domodedovo airport. His blood was tested after the fatal flight, which killed 45 people, and found to have alcohol in it (meaning he drank on board). The report says it was between .8 and .1 promilles (which is apparently a common measuring system over here). It’s the equivalent of having a glass of vodka on an empty stomach, the report says. A glass.

“The investigation found that one member of the crew…was not sober,” a security services source said. “No alcohol was found in the blood of the other crew members.”

Investigators are still trying to find out precisely what caused the crash. The RusAir jet crashed on a highway just short of the fog-enclosed airstrip at Petrozavodsk airport on Monday night. The crashed killed 44 people instantly. One of eight survivors, an 8-year-old boy, died the next day, bringing the death toll to 45.

Investigators have been looking into pilot error as a cause. President Medvedev has also said that was probably the cause, but has also ordered the Tupolev, a Soviet-era jet known for its shoddy safety record, to be retired.

Russia has seen a couple major scandals involving drunk pilots in recent years.

In September 2008, 88 people died when an Aeroflot Nord jet crashed outside Perm after taking off from Moscow. The pilot and co-pilot apparently followed the opposite of what was told them by air traffic controllers on the ground, having been unfamiliar with how to operate the Boeing they were flying. Alcohol was later found in the captain’s blood.

My friend Ira Iosebashvili was sitting down for a Moscow-NYC flight in December 2008when the pilot came across the loudspeaker, obviously drunk. Passengers attempted to revolt, but were told by flight attendants that “all [the pilot] has to do is press a button and the plane flies itself.” The only reason the plane didn’t take off was because Ksenia Sobchak, a celebrity and the daughter of Vladimir Putin’s mentor, made a call to a “highly placed source” to intervene. You can read Ira’s account here.