Fly Dubai crashed plane pilot was on last flight before returning home

  • The Daily Mail |
  • Sunday 20 March 2016
7

Flight FZ981 was circling Rostov-on-Don airport for two hours before Captain Aristos Sokratous made his second fatal landing attempt

The pilot of the FlyDubai jet which crashed in Russia killing all 62 people on board ignored weather warnings from Air Traffic Control about deadly turbulence and windshear on the approach to the runway.

Pilot Aristos Sokratous, 37, from Cyprus was at the controls of the Boeing 737-800 when it crashed just short of the runway in Rostov-on-Don in Russia.

Sokratous was on his final flight for the airline as he was due to join Ryanair based in his native Cyprus so he could live with his pregnant wife.

Sokratous, 37, had 5,900 hours experience as a pilot. It is understood he was at the controls of the aircraft, while is Spanish first officer Alejandro Alava, 37, who had 5,700 hours flight time, was in charge of keeping in contact with Air Traffic Control.

According to data released by FlightRadar 24, the aircraft was due to take off at 17.45GMT from Dubai on schedule and was due to arrive in Rostov-on-Don at 22.20.

However, he was delayed and only left the runway at 18.37, almost an hour behind schedule.

The aircraft began its approach to the airport at 22:39 and aborts the landing attempt 6.7km from the runway at height of 1,725 feet.

At the time, visibility was only 4,200 metres with cloud down to 1,600 feet. The aircraft climbed without incident to 8,000 feet and heads north east to the airport to wait for the weather conditions on the ground to improve.

He was warned about severe turbulence and windshear on his approach to the airport.

At 22.54, a Sukhoi Superjet from Moscow made the first of three attempts to land before diverting to Krasnodar half an hour later.

At 23.20GMT the FlyDubai aircraft, which was flying at 15,000 feet in a holding pattern, was due to depart from Rostov on its return trip to the Middle East.

An hour later, the aircraft leaves the holding pattern and prepares for a second attempt to land. The aircraft had been in the air almost six hours on what was normally a four hour flight.

At 00:36GMT the jet was 16km from the runway on its final approach to the runway.

During the final approach the co-pilot told controllers: ‘In case of go-around we are going to go to flight level EIGHT ZERO,’ meaning they would climb to 8,000 feet.

The co-pilot then told ATC: ‘Rostov Tower, this is 981, we are established on the localiser on runway TWO TWO.’

As the aircraft passed through the clouds at 1,800 feet the crew decided to abandon their second landing attempt, some 5,600 metres from the airport, when they should have been able to see the runway.

The aircraft then made its final transmission: ‘Going around, 981, bye bye.’

According to the Aviation Safety Network, four minutes later, the crew decide to abort when they are 5.6km from the runway at a height of 1,550 feet.

At the time the visibility was approximately 6km and there was scattered cloud at 1,800 feet. The weather forecast from the airport said it was raining.

The aircraft increased its altitude to a maximum of 3,975 feet, passing through some cumulonimbus clouds at 3,330 feet.

An international flight safety resource Skybrary, which is supported by the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation warns pilots about entering cumulonimbus clouds, especially during take off and landing.

The organisation warns: ‘Flight into a Cb is highly dangerous. The only sensible defence against the hazards associated with a Cb is therefore to avoid flying into one in the first place.

‘If the Cb cell is situated over the destination aerodrome, then the pilot would be well advised to hold off or divert rather than attempt a landing.’

Pilots are advised that the cloud formations can contain severe turbulence, cause in-flight icing and even disturb the electrical equipment on board the aircraft.

Cb cells can also contain hail which has in the past damaged aircraft.

Also they contain extreme weather.

It has emerged the jet’s pilot Sokratous was on his final flight for DubaiAir before joining Ryanair, who also have a fleet of Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

The Cyrpus Mail reported Sokratous was planning to return to home because his wife was due to give birth to their first child within a few weeks.

A friend said he was due to soon start working for Ryanair out of their Cyprus base, despite a drop in wages, because he wanted to be near his wife.

Sokratous was promoted to captain 18 months ago, according to the friend. He had previously worked for Helios Airways, the Cypriot airline that shut down following a crash in 2005.

One of the victims was Valentyna Somina, 67, who was flying back to Ukraine after a week’s holiday in Dubai.

A family member said: ‘They have confirmed that she, and all the passengers, did pass away. They have said they will be getting back in touch with us.

‘They called three times to confirm her name but that’s it. They have just passed it to their managers and that’s it. They really haven’t got their priorities straight.

‘It’s a great loss for us and it doesn’t seem like they care.

‘It would be nice to go there and be there, which is what we’re going to do next. We have booked flights to Moscow. But it’s going to be another 24 hours or so until we can be at the site.

‘And there were only 55 passengers so you would have thought they would be able to support us.

‘They’ve offered no support. We’ve had no emotional support or counselling, no support in terms of travel and getting to the site of the crash. They’ve told us nothing about what to do now or what comes next.

‘They haven’t even told us how long it will be before they get back to us with more information. If they had told us it would be a week even, I wouldn’t mind, but they have told us nothing. It’s not right.

‘She was travelling alone, and was planning to travel back to Ukraine. So we didn’t have anyone from the family to meet her there because she wasn’t stopping over there and did the journey often and was capable of doing it alone.

‘Even when we get there, we have been given no guidance about what we should do. And that’s just us contacting them through the website.

‘We have spoken to numerous people, but they are all just the same. They are like robots, and after 16 hours of calling we have had zero guidance or anything.

‘It’s rude and upsetting to be honest.

‘Our only option is to fly to Moscow and then get internal flights from there, and drive to the place where it happened.

‘We’re just going there with a bunch of cash because it’s not about the money now, it’s about getting there by whatever means possible and it’s about making peace with what’s happened.

‘They don’t want to help us. It’s not fair for them to street people like this. The thing that really p****** me off is that they sent a recovery flight this morning to pick up the tourists left stranded because the plane crash. So they are only concerned about their customers, but don’t want to help the families of their victims. It’s really not fair.’

Officials have been forced to bring in dogs to search for remains at the FlyDubai crash site after the plane was obliterated as it tried to land in ‘hurricane-force winds’.

Four children were among the 62 people killed when Flight FZ981 plummeted to the ground at Rostov-on-Don airport around 4am Moscow time.

The plane was carrying 55 passengers and seven crew members from Dubai when it crashed as it attempted to land for a second time in bad weather conditions.

Vasily Golubev, the governor of the Rostov region, this afternoon revealed that the plane crashed around 800ft short of the runway.

He added: ‘By all appearances, the cause of the air crash was the strongly gusting wind, approaching a hurricane level.’

His comments came after officials revealed the plane went up in flames after its tail hit the runway and disintegrated. Pilot error or a technological failure are thought to be the two other main causes being investigated.

Emergency services were this morning at the airport attempting to clear up the debris from the Boeing 737. Photographs showed officials standing in thick fog and rain as they scoured the crash site using dogs in a desperate bid to find remains.

Meanwhile, relatives were pictured sobbing at the airport as FlyDubai began to contact families about the crash.

A statement from the aircraft said: ‘We are currently contacting relatives of the passengers and crew who were on board and we are offering any help we can to those affected.’

Nicos Anastasiade, president of Cyprus, also paid tribute to 35-year-old Mr Sokratous, who appears to have got married just last August

He said: ‘Especially to those close to Aristos Sokratous, the President of the Republic expresses his deepest condolences, and his support towards them.’

FlyDubai would not release any other information about the pilot on Saturday afternoon but his Facebook page suggested he trained at Oxford Aviation Academy in Kidlington, Oxfordshire and liked rock music.

It comes as YouTube footage released this morning appears to show a fireball as the aircraft crashes into the ground.

The grainy black and white footage allegedly shows the plane plummeting towards the ground before a large fireball spreads through the nearby trees. Smoke can be seen rising into the dark sky as cars drive past the burning wreckage.

A seven-minute recording allegedly from traffic control tapes on Saturday morning appeared to show the pilots chatting normally to officials as they discussed the weather.

In a conversation that switches between English and Russian, they can be heard asking if there are any changes in conditions and receive regular updates from the ground.

Although they do not seem to panic at any point, their voices can be heard becoming more agitated as the plane descends to an altitude of around 2,000ft.

FlyDubai confirmed it was investigating the incident with officials on scene ‘trying to establish the facts’.

FROM THE SHARM EL-SHEIKH CRASH TO SEVERAL FAILED LANDINGS: HOW RUSSIAN AVIATION HAS BEEN TAINTED BY A NUMBER OF MAJOR CRASHES

This morning’s crash will be added to a long list of tragedies that have tainted Russian aviation.

There have been more than 10 major plane crashes in the last ten years, with around 1,000 passengers dying as a result of them.

They include:

  • May 3 2006: An A-320 of the Armenian airline Armavia crashes into the Black Sea while trying to land in the Russian resort city of Sochi in rough weather, killing all 113 people on board.
  • July 9 2006: At least 124 people die when an Airbus A-310 of the Russian company S7 skids off the runway in the Siberian city of Irkutsk and bursts into flames.
  • September 14 2008: Eighty-eight people are killed when a Boeing 737-500 flying from Moscow crashes as it prepares to land in the Russian city of Perm.
  • April 10 2010: A Polish government plane carrying president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others crashes while attempting to land in Smolensk; all die. Warsaw and Moscow continue to dispute whether the crew ignored poor weather conditions or if air-traffic controllers gave poor guidance.
  • June 20 2011: Forty-seven people die when a Tu-134 crashes on a motorway in heavy fog while trying to land in Petrozavodsk.
  • October 31 2015: An onboard bomb destroys a Metrojet airliner soon after taking off from Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh resort. All 244 people on board die.

A statement released on Saturday morning added: ‘Chief Executive Officer Ghaith Al Ghaith, with the support of the full management team, is leading our response to the accident.

‘At this stage the focus of our efforts is on establishing the facts around the incident and providing all possible support to the authorities. Our emergency response team are now en-route to Rostov-on-Don.’

Mr Ghaith later added: ‘I would like to express the devastation we all feel in relation to this morning’s tragic event in Rostov-on-Don. Our primary concern is for the passengers and crew involved at this tragic time.

‘Everyone in our company is in deep shock and our hearts go out to all the loved ones of those involved.’

Footage from aircraft data website FlightRadar 24 shows the aircraft made one attempt to land before it declared a missed approach and circled the airport for a second attempt.

Russian officials confirmed: ‘According to preliminary data, the Boeing 738 crashed in poor visibility conditions, some 50 to 100m left of the runway.’

FlyDubai had confirmed in an earlier statement that the flight crashed ‘on landing and that fatalities have been confirmed as a result of this tragic accident.’

They added: ‘We are doing all we can to gather information as quickly as possible.

‘At this moment our thoughts and prayers are with our passengers and our crew who were on board the aircraft. We will do everything we can to help those who have been affected by this accident.

The parents of one of the flight attendants, Laura Patricia de la Cruz from Colombia confirmed their daughter had been living in the UAE with her husband for three years.

Her father, Wulfram de la Cruz said he and his wife will be travelling from their home in the town of Sabanalarga in a few days to help with the identification of his daughter’s remains.

‘We are putting our emergency response in place and we will be working closely with all the authorities involved.

‘We will share as much information as possible just as soon as we can and we will provide updated information on a regular basis.’

Boeing also issued a statement about Flight FZ981 in the early hours of Saturday morning.

It said: ‘Boeing’s thoughts and prayers are with those on board FlyDubai flight FZ981 and their families and friends.

‘Boeing stands ready to provide technical assistance upon the request of government agencies conducting the investigation.

‘In accordance with the international protocol governing aviation accident investigations, all inquiries about the investigation must be directed to investigating authorities.’

Roughly 80 rescuers were deployed to the site of the crash overnight and terrorism as a cause of the crash at this stage has been ruled out, according to CNN.

The Russian Investigation Committee has launched a preliminary investigation into the accident.

The budget carrier FlyDubai launched in 2009, with a network of up to 90 destinations. They operate more than 1,700 flights each week.

Its Facebook page says: ‘From our hub in Dubai, we strive to remove barriers to travel and enhance connectivity between different cultures across our ever-expanding network.

‘Our agility and flexibility as a young airline has enhanced Dubai’s economic development, in line with the Government of Dubai’s vision, by creating trade and tourism flows in previously under-served markets.’

 

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