MOSCOW: Russian investigators were on Tuesday considering pilot error as the cause of a crash-landing that saw a plane erupt in flames at Moscow’s busiest airport and kill 41 people, media reported.
The Sukhoi Superjet-100 had just flown out of Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday evening when it sent out an emergency signal and circled back, bouncing on the runway and catching fire.
Sources in the investigation told Kommersant newspaper the Aeroflot pilots made a number of errors including flying into a thunderstorm and landing with a full tank rather than circling to use up fuel.
Various sources told the business daily RBK the pilots opened a cockpit window, potentially fanning the flames, and failed to turn off engines immediately after landing.
Investigators are still examining the black boxes from the plane and have so far given no official reason for the crash.
Pilot Denis Yevdokimov earlier said the lightning strike shortly after take-off caused the aircraft to lose communication and forced the emergency landing.
Passengers and crew said they saw a bright light and felt a jolt as the plane entered clouds.
Videos on social media showed the plane landing with a jolt and then speeding along the runway with flames pouring from its fuselage.
People could be seen leaping onto an inflatable slide at the front and running from the blazing plane as columns of black smoke billowed into the sky.
In the footage, several passengers were carrying hand luggage, prompting harsh online criticism.
Some on social media suggested that taking the bags out of lockers could have held up the evacuation of the plane, though no witness accounts confirmed the speculation.
Survivor Oleg Molchanov, who posted a photo of his boarding pass to prove his identity, wrote on an online forum that toxic black smoke filling the cabin within seconds was the reason evacuation from the back rows was extremely difficult.
Meanwhile a video also emerged showing unidentified officials at the airport laughing as they shot footage of the fatal landing.
Sheremetyevo said in a statement that the officials — who were not employees of the airport company or Aeroflot — would be “punished in the strictest possible way”.
Ten passengers were hospitalised following the crash, and all were in a stable condition on Tuesday, transport minister Yevgeny Dietrich said.
Russia’s national carrier Aeroflot was once notorious for a poor safety record but in recent years its image has improved and it has not had a fatal accident in more than a decade.
The Russian Sukhoi Superjet-100 however has been dogged with problems since its launch in 2011 and Russia has struggled to convince foreign carriers to purchase it.
In 2012, a Superjet performing at an Indonesian air show slammed into a volcano, killing all 45 people on board. Indonesia blamed the crash on pilot error.
Dietrich said there were no plans to ground the Superjet-100 model.