Aerosvit Flight 241
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UR-42334 in service with Tiger Air in the mid-1990s
|Date||17 December 1997|
|Summary||Controlled flight into terrain due to pilot error, cockpit confusion|
|Site||Pierian Mountains, Thessaloniki, Greece|
|Aircraft type||Yakovlev Yak-42|
|Operator||Aerosvit – Ukrainian Airlines|
|Flight origin||Boryspil International Airport, Kiev, Ukraine|
|Stopover||Odessa International Airport, Odessa, Ukraine|
|Destination||Thessaloniki International Airport, Thessaloniki, Greece|
Aerosvit Flight 241 (VV241/EW241) was a scheduled international passenger flight from Kiev's Boryspil International Airport in Ukraine to Thessaloniki International Airport in Thessaloniki, Greece with a stopover in Odessa. On 17 December 1997, the Yakovlev Yak-42 operating the flight registered as UR-42334 flew into a mountainside during a missed approach into Thessaloniki in Greece. All 70 people aboard the aircraft were killed.
The crash was the third deadliest plane crash in Greece's history, behind Olympic Airways Flight 954 and Helios Airways Flight 522 and was the fifth deadliest plane crash involving a Yakovlev Yak-42. It was the 14th loss of a Yakovlev Yak-42.
Investigation carried out by the Greek Air Accident Investigation and Aviation Safety Board (AAIASB) concluded that the cause of the crash was due to pilot error. The crew lost their situational awareness after an incorrect approach into Thessaloniki. As a result, the plane flew into terrain. The investigation showed that the crew did not issue an emergency call despite the plane's recurring warnings and highlighted the lack of discipline and organized environment in the cockpit.
Aerosvit Flight 241 was originally scheduled to be operated by a Boeing 737. The first sector of the flight from Kiev-Odessa was operated by the Boeing 737 but due to engine issues the aircraft was replaced with a Yakovlev Yak-42. The flight continued onwards towards Thessaloniki, Greece, flying through Ukrainian and Bulgarian airspace. According to the Greek investigation team, this was the first time the crew had flown into Thessaloniki. The weather was snowing at the time.
Flight 241 contacted Thessaloniki Tower while the tower was mid-communication with an Olympic Airways flight asking them to descend. The crew of Flight 241, however, misinterpreted this and thought that the descent was meant for them. Thessaloniki Tower then clarified that the order was meant for Olympic Airways. Flight 241 was later cleared to decrease its altitude to FL100.
After its clearance to FL100, Flight 241 was ordered to approach waypoint LAMBI. Everything was normal in the cockpit until Flight 241 arrived at point LAMBI. In the following minutes, confusion started to prevail in the cockpit and crew management began to break down. The flight did not follow the "arc" of LAMBI arrival as instructed by the ATC. Instead following another route towards THS/NDB. The Ground Proximity Warning System then sounded twice. However, the crew didn't react and ignored the warnings.
Flight 241 then failed to establish on the localizer course twice. The crew didn't realize that they had overshot the airport. By not following the published procedure for transitioning to and engaging the localizer (utilizing the "arc") and with the rapid descent required, the flight crew was unable to establish a stabilized approach.
Thessaloniki Tower reported to the crew of Flight 241 that they had overshot the airport. Confusion occurred in the cockpit as they didn't know the heading for an approach. They later asked for a heading, however their request was not heard by the controller and they immediately handed over to Thessaloniki Approach.
The crew were told to head north and hold for a second attempt. The crew failed to follow the published missed ILS approach procedure. Instead of flying to the north as instructed by the ATC, Flight 241 headed west-southwest and as a result flew into the side of Mount Pieria at 3,300 feet (1,006 m).
Search and rescue
A search party was formed when the flight went missing, with the Greek Air Force helping in the search for wreckage. Locals also joined the search. Greek military officials stated that the search area was concentrated around Mount Olympus. Local villagers claimed that they saw bright flash of light and heard the sound of an explosion near the area.
The search continued until 18 December, with the wreckage of the aircraft yet to be found. The search and rescue operation was hampered by bad weather condition. According to Aerosvit's Managing Director, Leonid Pogrebnyak, the search area was moved and the wreckage of Flight 241 had not been located by rescuers.
The Greek navy joined the search and rescue operation. On 19 December, the Greek army deployed 5,000 people to participate in the search and rescue operation. 29 helicopters and 500 vehicles were also deployed to join the operation. However, bad weather still hampered the search and rescue effort. Greek officials stated that the search area was concentrated near Katerini. The search was later suspended.
On 20 December, three days after the initial accident, the wreckage was found at an elevation of 1,100 m. The wreckage was located in a gorge and was buried in heavy snow, with debris strewn over a large area. No survivors were found at the crash site. All 70 passengers and crew aboard Flight 241 had perished. In a coincidence, a Lockheed C-130 Hercules operated by the Greek Air Force, participating in the search for Flight 241, crashed near Athens, Greece, killing all five crew members.
The flight was operated by a Yakovlev Yak-42, registration UR-42334. The aircraft first flew in 1986 and was delivered to Aeroflot in June 1986 as CCCP-42334. The aircraft was later delivered to Air Ukraine with a registration of UR-42334. On November 1997 it returned from a seven-month lease period to Tiger Air, a Yugoslavia-based charter company. The accident flight was operated under a wet lease agreement with Aerosvit. The aircraft had accumulated 12,008 flight hours and 6,836 cycles.
Passengers and crews
Flight 241 was carrying 62 passengers and 8 crew members. Of those, 34 were Greeks and 25 were Ukrainians. Others came from Poland and Germany. The instructor pilot, Captain and the co-pilot were Russian, while the Flight Engineer and the rest of the crew were Ukrainian. 23 passengers were workers of the Salonica State Construction Company. The aircraft was carrying 6 children, 16 women and 40 men. Most of the passengers were travelling for their Christmas holiday.
The instructor pilot had a total flying time of 16,210 hours. According to the Greek investigation agency, he had accumulated 5,350 total flying hours on the Yakovlev Yak-42. The Captain of the flight had a total flying time of 9,850 hours with 2,300 total hours on the Yak-42. The co-pilot had accumulated a total flying time of 6,700 hours in which 3,000 of them were on the Yak-42. The commander of the flight was identified as Aleksii Vcherashnyi by Leonid Pogrebnyak, the Managing Director of Aeroswift.
Initial reports suggested that Flight 241 suffered a failure of their compass while approaching Thessaloniki Airport. This claim was reported by an ATC worker at Thessaloniki. The claim stated that the compass of the plane was at 230 degrees.
However, according to Serhii Lukianov, assistant director of the State Aviation Department of Ukraine, every Ukrainian aircraft that had departed from Ukraine was airworthy, as he stated that all Ukrainian aircraft must meet stringent maintenance requirements and certifications in response to criticism of Ukrainian-operated aircraft, which led to a ban of Air Ukraine by John F Kennedy International Airport in 1998.
Investigators then shifted their attention to other factors, such as bad weather conditions and pilot error. Weather conditions around Thessaloniki were reportedly bad at the time of the accident. Investigators knew that this was the first time the crew had flown into Thessaloniki, which could be a potential challenge for the crew. According to a flight transcript, the crew thought that they were flying over the sea while in fact they were flying over the mountain. In addition, Thessaloniki Airport doesn't have any radar, which could have helped the approach. Greek Air Force General Athanasios Tzoganis said that pilot error might have played a part in the crash of Flight 241.
The investigators focused on the performance of the crew since they knew that this was the crew's first flight to Thessaloniki. Apparently, the crew had never conducted or trained for an approach to Thessaloniki Airport. Thus, the crew wasn't familiar with the environment.
The aircraft did not follow the "arc", as instructed by ATC, but proceeded instead towards THS/NOB. There is evidence, by FOR, that Flight 241 was never established on the localizer and nor did it pass over the outer marker. The flight crew also did not give a position report as was instructed by the ATC. After arriving at Thessaloniki, the crew was instructed to turn right and head north. The instructor pilot and the co-pilot informed the pilot of the instructions, with the instructor pilot stating "Go ahead to the VOR, go to the VOR". However, despite the instructions from the ATC and his fellow flight crew, the pilot in command instead flew Flight 241 on a westerly heading, stating "We should (turn) to the left then".
The ATC became confused as Flight 241 had gone astray from its route and asked the flight crew "AEW-241 are you North 0/TSL, confirm?". The crew responded with "Yes North, TSL". Since the ATC noticed that Flight 241 was flying in the wrong direction they continued to request the craft's position and heading, but did not directly inform the crew that they were on the wrong heading. The crew kept stating that they were on the right path, even though they didn't know the heading and continued to fly in the wrong direction for over 10 minutes. The flight crew didn't report to the ATC at any time that they were having difficulties with the heading.
The Captain then asked his fellow flight crew to ask the ATC about radar vectoring. The instructor pilot, as well as the co-pilot, however, were concentrating on whether the ADFs I Locators were in operation or not, and what frequency each ADF set was tuned to, instead of asking the ATC about the radar vector. After they asked Thessaloniki Approach, Thessaloniki stated that there was no radar vectoring, and later asked Flight 241 to "Comply with VOR-DME-ILS approach Rwy IG" to which Flight 241 affirmed, as well as to "Report on the LLZ".
Investigators said that Flight 241's request for radar vector in Thessaloniki Airport was rather confusing, since Thessaloniki Airport didn't have any "Radar Vectoring Area" chart. The AIP clearly indicates that there is a Military Radar Service available in case of emergency and upon request, but has no mention of radar at Thessaloniki Airport itself.
The communication between the flight crew and ATC was performed in English, which was used as a universal language for communication because the national languages of the ATC controllers and the flight crew were Hellenic and Russian respectively. Communications did not appear to be out of the ordinary during the first part of the approach. But as the flight continued it became increasingly apparent that, while both parties possessed English language capability, neither party appeared to have the fluency in English to move beyond routine exchange of ATC terminology. This hampered their ability to describe and assimilate the extent of the critical situation that was rapidly developing.
Confusion continued inside the cockpit, with the instructor pilot distracting the other flight crew members with discussion of problems in navigating, operating the navigation equipment, determining what track they were on, and so on. Each flight crew member individually was engaged in solving his problem since they had lost situational and terrain awareness. The pilots shared misbeliefs and most of the time held different but equally incorrect understandings of the situation and the procedures.
During the confusion, the Ground Proximity Warning sounded three times. The crew ignored these warnings. The fourth warning then sounded, and at this point the Captain realized that they were flying too close to terrain. The Captain tried to avert the impending disaster by initiating a pull-up, but it was too late.
- Air navigation
- Situation awareness
- Varig Flight 254, a crash in Brazil in which the crew flew the aircraft in an opposite direction from the route they supposed to take.
- Aerosvit Flight 241 information
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- "Final Report" (PDF).