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Military aircraft crashes in Kazakhstan 26 сентября 2014, 18:37

A military aircraft has crashed in Kazakhstan's Almaty Oblast killing both pilots. Causes are being investigated and the issue of air security in Kazakhstan is once again at the forefront.
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Sukhoi Su-27. Photo courtesy of  ©greg-bedenko.com Sukhoi Su-27. Photo courtesy of ©greg-bedenko.com

Sukhoi Su-27 military airplane has crashed in Almaty Oblast killing both of its pilots in the evening on Tuesday this week, Tengrinews reports.

According to the press service of the Ministry of Defense, communication with the aircraft was lost on 23 September at about 20:42 local time during training flights. The crew, Leutenant Colonel Yerlan Nauanov and Leutenant Colonel Denis Gorbunov, are now known to be dead.

Four helicopters, 10 search teams, and about 60 people were involved in the search operation.

The fighter aircraft’s fragments were scattered 500 meters around the crash site and the bodies of the pilots could not be found until the evening of Wednesday.

Eyewitnesses claim the fighter jet exploded in the air, KTK TV channel reports. Aydin Copenov, who reported the tragedy to the Emergency Services and pointed them to the approximate location of the crash, said: "There was a nearly soundless pop and a flash in the sky. But I clearly understood that the plane blew up. First, there was the sound of an airplane flying and then the pop. And when the plane crashed, I heard the sound of the impact.”

The plane crashed 15 kilometers from Zhetyzhal village. Local residents believe that the pilots tried to direct the aircraft away from the village, which may be why they did not have time to catapult from the cockpit.

According to the channel, the impact was so strong that the cockpit bored almost five meters deep into the soil. In addition, the position of the debris at the crash site suggests that the plane spent its last seconds flying upside down.

A woman residing in Zhetyzhal said that on the day of the crash helicopters were flying in the area during the whole night, probably looking for the bodies. A boy from the small village said he saw the aircraft in flame falling into the sands nearby.

The aircraft had a major overhaul in Belarus a few years ago. "The Su-27 aircraft was completely overhauled in 2009 in Belarus and had had another 3 years of operation in stock," the press service of the Ministry of Defense of Kazakhstan said.

A special commission has been established to investigate the causes of the accident. The crash site has been cordoned off by the military. Civilians including journalists are not allowed to access the crash site. 

At this point there are only representatives of the Ministry of Defense on the commission. But should there be suspicions about the quality of the repairs, the investigation will involve representatives of the Belarusian aircraft factory as well.

The special commission started working on Thursday. The investigation team is led by Major-General Ruslan Alimov, and the commission is led by Colonel Kozhakhmetov.

On Wednesday morning the Minister of Defense of Kazakhstan Serik Akhmetov issued a statement saying that there were two possible causes of the crash, Almaty TV channel reported.

"There are two versions of the events: equipment failure and human error," the Minister said, adding that answers will be available only after a thorough examination.

He added that all the pilots of the Ministry of Defense have excellent training and "all had ample experience" but it was too early to draw any conclusions.

The Ministry of Defense said that the flight of the Su-27 took place in normal weather conditions at medium altitude and the plane was carrying no ammunition.

First Deputy Chief of the Armed Forces Marat Uashpayev characterised the crew as "experienced and highly qualified pilots."

After the tragic incident, exploitation of all Kazakhstan's Su-27 planes has been suspended. There are a total of 25 such planes in the Kazakh Air Forces, KTK channel reported.

According to ex-Defense Minister and currently Senator Mukhtar Altynbayev, the plane crashed six minutes after take-off, after climbing to the target altitude. He also said there were no distress calls from the crew. "The crew did not send any messages. (...) There was some kind of a sound – like a shout. When the control officer tried to contact them, no one answered," Altynbaeyv said.

He assumed that an emergency situation could be involved and added that he excluded the version of a mistake of the crew since their qualification left no doubt, Astana channel reported.

Finding the aircraft's black boxes turned out to be hard since the nose of the aircraft went deep into the ground.

“When a fighter jet falls at such an angle, there is virtually nothing left from it afterwards. Engines are the heaviest, they go deep into the ground heavily damaging the plane in the process. I an not sure they will be able to find the flight recorders on the plane. It is difficult,” ex-Minister Altynbayev said.

However, the flight recorders have been found, eventually. And the Ministry of Defense issued a statement: “Today, on September 25, two flight recorders have been found at the crash site of the Su-27. The first one records flight parameters, that is, the technical condition of the aircraft, and the second one is the voice recorder.”

A criminal investigation was opened in connection to the crash. The press service of the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office informed: "Taldykorgan garrison military prosecutor initiated a criminal case on September 24 into the crash of Su-27 under the Article 392 of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan "Violation of flight or preparation for flight rules."

According to the prosecutor, the investigation is being carried out by the Military Investigation Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Yesterday, the head of the Ministry of Defense expressed his condolences to the families of the deceased.

"I extend my deep condolences and words of support to the families and friends of the pilots of the Air Force Lt. Col. Yerlan Nauanov and Lt. Col. Denis Gorbunov, who died in the line of duty. Talented, bold and energetic young officers have passed away. This is a great loss for all us. They were recognized professionals in military affairs, they were known as brave officers ready to fulfill their duty in any situation. This tragedy reminds us once again that even in peacetime military profession is a lot of strong-minded and courageous people," Akhmetov said.

According to the law "On military service and status of servicemen", the pilots' families will be paid a lump sum in the amount of five-year pay. Also, according to the decision of the government funeral expenses will be compensated in the amount of around $800 for each of the families.

Ex-Defense Minister Altynbayev also expressed his condolences. He said that it was time to seriously address the issue of air safety in Kazakhstan: "I want to say that there is a glitch in the security system, both of the civil aviation and the military aviation. Therefore, I believe it is necessary to carefully examine all such disasters and take serious measures at a high enough level to prevent more air accidents from happening, to address the causes.”

“And most importantly, there is a law in aviation: when a disaster or an accident strikes, it is necessary to understand the causes and eliminate them, identifying necessary measures to prevent these things from happening. Unfortunately, we had an accident in Karaganda, where a group commander was killed but we still do not know why it happened. This is very bad," Altynbayev said to the journalists during a break in the plenary session of the Senate.

As a specialist and formerly a pilot, he stressed air safety in Kazakhstan had reached its tipping point and it was necessary to finally understand why the country was losing qualified professionals and expensive equipment. Tragedies hitting families, relatives and friends had to be stopped, he said.

Writing by Dinara Urazova, editing by Tatyana Kuzmina (Renat Tashkinbayev, Aidana Yusupova and Dinmuhammed Kallikulov contributed to the story)

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