Report: Russian intelligence suspects US hand in SuperJet crash
Although aviation experts dismissed Russian intelligence's suspicions of a US hand in the May 9 plane crash in Indonesia, the many unanswered questions about the crash fuel conspiracy theories.
Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU, suspects that US-inspired industrial espionage may have caused the May 9 crash in Indonesia of a Sukhoi Superjet 100 – Russia's only hopeful entry in the civilian aviation market – according to Moscow's leading tabloid newspaper, the usually reliable and officially connected Komsomolskaya Pravda.Skip to next paragraph
Fred Weir has been the Monitor's Moscow correspondent, covering Russia and the former Soviet Union, since 1998.
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While most Russian aviation experts contacted today dismissed the sabotage theory, they say there is a deepening mystery about how Russia's most modern civil aircraft, with all its systems apparently functioning perfectly, came to slam into the side of a mile-high volcano during a routine demonstration flight.
"All the theories put forward so far are badly flawed, there is a shortage of hard information and there are a lot of irresponsible rumors," says Roman Gusarov, editor of Avia.ru, an online aviation journal. "I am afraid that Russia is not going to emerge from this story without taking a black eye."
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Citing an unnamed GRU general, Komsomolskaya Pravda claimed that electronic jamming of the plane's on board equipment is the most plausible explanation for how the jet, which was making a demonstration flight out of Jakarta airport with 45 people aboard, smashed into a mountainside even though an initial investigation has found that its terrain and collision avoidance systems were all functioning properly.
"We are investigating the theory that it was industrial sabotage," the GRU officer is quoted as saying. He said that Russian intelligence has long monitored the activities of US military electronic specialists at the Jakarta airport.
"We know that they have special equipment that can cut communications between an aircraft and the ground or interfere with the parameters on board," he said. "For example, the plane is flying at one altitude, but after interference from the ground onboard equipment shows another."
The investigation has so far turned up the plane's "black box" cockpit voice recorder, which shows that no system-failure alarms went off during the plane's final minutes, nor did the crew take any audible emergency action. But the aircraft's digital flight recorder, which monitors flight systems and engine performance, remains missing in the rough jungle terrain around Mount Salak, where at least seven other deadly air disasters have occurred.
The biggest question about the crash is why the SuperJet's pilot, Alexander Yablontsev, one of Russia's most experienced test pilots, requested permission to descend amid a rainstorm in a notoriously mountainous area – and why a ground controller in Jakarta granted that permission.
"Maybe he didn't see that the plane was heading straight at the mountain. On the other hand, we don't rule out the possibility that this was deliberate industrial sabotage to drive our aircraft from the market," an unnamed official at Sukhoi, the plane's manufacturer, told Komsomolskaya Pravda. "Fortunately, we don't foresee any loss of orders [for the SuperJet]."