Russian air experts on Wednesday blamed pilot error for a crash that killed members of a top ice hockey team, saying that one of the two pilots in the cockpit had also taken a banned medication.
As the plane took off from the central Russian city of Yaroslavl two months ago, one of the pilots accidentally pressed down the brakes, the Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK) said in a report published on its website.
"The direct cause of the crash of the Yak-42 plane .. were the mistaken actions of the crew in pressing the brake pedals," said MAK, an expert body that investigates air disasters in former Soviet republics.
"The braking could have been carried out by the commander who was carrying out active piloting, or the second pilot," chairman of the technical commission of MAK, Alexei Morozov, said in a televised presentation.
The Russian-made Yak-42 crashed on September 7 shortly after take-off, killing 44 people, including players and support staff from Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team, prompting an international outpouring of grief.
Among those who died were Swedish Olympic champion Stefan Liv as well as players from Russia, Germany, Latvia, Belarus, Slovakia and the Czech Republic and the team's Canadian coach Brad McCrimmon.
One player, Russian Alexander Galimov, survived the crash, but died days later in hospital from horrific burns.
The report was the latest in a series to blame air crashes on human error rather than ageing Soviet-designed aircraft.
It said the pilots could have committed the error of putting their feet on the brake pedals during takeoff because they were more used to flying another plane with that foot position.
The aircraft built in 1993 and operated by the small Yak-Servis airline overran the airstrip, wheeled for a further 450 metres (about 1,500 feet) before finally taking off.
The aircrew could have aborted the takeoff and stopped safely within the runway, the report said.
After reaching a height of only five to six metres, the plane crashed, falling partly into a river, and burst into flames.
The postmortem also found that the second pilot had taken phenobarbital, a barbiturate medication banned for use by pilots that would have slowed down his reactions, the committee said.
"In the body of the second pilot was discovered phenobarbital, a medication that slows down the central nervous system and is banned for use by pilots," Morozov.
In addition the second pilot had been diagnosed with nerve problems in his arms and legs that meant he would have difficulty in sensing how his feet were placed, Morozov said, adding that the condition should have barred him from flying.
The report slammed the airline for failing to ensure flight safety or to monitor its staff.
The crash prompted Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev to order his government to shut down unreliable airlines and raise penalties for air safety violations.
MAK earlier found that a plane crashed on a highway in northwestern Russia in June while attempting to land because of poor judgement by the crew, including a navigator with alcohol in his blood.
It also said that the errors of the Polish crew were the main reason that Polish President Lech Kaczynski's jet crashed in Russia last year, killing all onboard, a view only partially supported by Warsaw.
(c) 2011 AFP
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