Russian lawyer attacks top aviation authority

AP News
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Posted: Nov 30, 2011 10:11 AM
Russian lawyer attacks top aviation authority

A prominent Russian lawyer said Wednesday he will challenge the powers of a regional aviation watchdog following a crash that killed an entire Russian professional ice hockey team and other recent air disasters that have raised concerns about the nation's air safety.

Igor Trunov said he will ask Russia's Supreme Court to trim the authority of the Interstate Aviation Committee, which was formed in 1992 by 12 nations of the former Soviet Union. The Moscow-based body employs mostly Russian staff and serves both as the top certification authority for Russia's civil aviation and the nation's top crash investigation body.

Trunov said a conflict of interest keeps the body from objectively investigating crashes and leads to new disasters.

"This monopoly on power and on investigations has prevented the IAC from naming officials responsible and led it to blame everything on the dead," Trunov said at a news conference. "It leads to impunity."

IAC officials declined to comment.

Trunov said he had filed a court appeal on behalf of relatives of the victims of several recent crashes, including the Sept. 7 one of the Yak-42 plane near Yaroslavl, which killed 44, among them 36 players, coaches and staff of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team that contained some former NHL stars.

It was one of the worst aviation disasters ever in sports, shocking Russia and the world of hockey. The only player who survived the crash later died of burns, leaving a flight engineer as the sole survivor.

The Interstate Aviation Committee concluded its probe earlier this month, saying that a pilot had caused the crash by inadvertently putting the wheel brakes on during takeoff. It also pointed to lax oversight and insufficient crew training as key reasons behind the error.

Trunov argued that the IAC's probe failed to determine the true cause and that the government must open a new investigation. He was backed by several veteran pilots, who said the IAC's verdict had left some key questions unanswered.

Vladimir Gerasimov, a former top crash investigator, said the IAC's claim that the plane crashed just a couple of seconds after taking off didn't seem plausible.

Alexander Akimenkov, a decorated test pilot, agreed with that and said the probe also failed to determine the reason for the plane banking sharply on its left wing.

Trunov said that one possible cause for the crash could be bad fuel, even though officials said it was fine.

Yevgeny Sarmatov, whose wife, a flight attendant, died in the crash, said that the crew often had been forced by the plane's owners to buy fuel for cash and its quality could have been substandard.

Gerasimov said the plane's owner, Yak-Service, had been checked for compliance with regulations twice this year before the crash and received clearance.

The company was stripped of its license following the September crash.

Trunov said the Russian government's decision granting broad powers to the IAC must be revised. "The oversight and investigative functions must be separated. They mustn't be done by one body," he said.