By Taylor Rains
Russian Antonov An-26 Crash Site Located
It has been a bad week for air travel. On Tuesday, a Kamchatka Aviation Enterprise Antonov An-26 went missing after attempting a landing in bad weather at Palana Airport in Russia. According to Reuters, all 22 passengers and six crew members are confirmed dead, including Palana’s mayor, Olga Mokhierva. Aircraft debris has been found in nearby areas around the airport, and Russia’s federal air transport agency, Rosaviatsiya, has located the crash site.
So far, details of the crash are scarce, but it is known that the aircraft went missing during landing in bad weather on a routine flight from the regional capital of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The plane reportedly missed a radio call with air traffic control five miles from the airport and disappeared from radar.
After postponing search and rescue efforts due to rough mountain terrain, Russia’s civil aviation authority dispatched helicopters and managed to locate the crash site. However, before the site was found, wreckage from the aircraft was discovered three miles from the airport’s runway, including pieces of the fuselage found on the side of a nearby mountain and floating in the Okhotsk sea. There are no reported survivors.
The Kamchatka Peninsula, where the accident occurred, is in Russia’s far east, where “bears outnumber people,” according to a local inhabitant. The An-26, manufactured by Ukrainian aircraft company Antonov, is a popular aircraft for flying in the region. Vitali Shelkovnikov, who heads the Flight Safety consulting agency in Moscow, told Qatari international news channel Al Jazeera that “it’s too early to say what happened.” However, he specified that the An-26 is a reliable jet that can safely glide without engine power and explained that Antonov has “never mad a bad machine.”
A statement from Kamchatka Aviation Enterprise deputy director Sergei Gorb reads the airplane “practically crashed into a sea cliff,” which was not supposed to be on the plane’s landing trajectory. Meanwhile, the company’s director, Alexei Khabarov, told Russian news agency Interfax that the decades-old aircraft was technically sound before departing from Petropavlovsk.
Unfortunately, this is not the company’s first event in the region. In 2012, a Kamchatka Aviation Enterprise An-28 aircraft crashed into a forest while flying the same route as yesterday’s accident. The investigation found that both pilots were drunk at the time of the event.
While the aircraft was supposedly in good condition before taking off for Palana, the Soviet-era jet has had a spotty safety record. Since 2000, 26 accidents and major incidents have occurred in the plane type, including yesterday’s crash. Of the events, 20 were fatal, and a majority happened in the landing phase of flight.
Meanwhile, Russia itself has also had a rocky past when it comes to meeting safety standards. Major accidents include an Aeroflot Sukhoi jet that crashed during landing in 2019, killing 41 people, and a Saratov Airlines An-148 that crashed after takeoff in 2018, claiming all 71 souls on board. While these crashes may concern a nervous flyer, the country’s safety standards have improved in recent years, and yesterday’s crash does not indicate Russian aviation has a fundamental safety issue.
Russia’s major carriers, Aeroflot and S7, are highly-regarded in the industry and are part of the SkyTeam and OneWorld alliances respectively. To be part of these alliances, airlines must demonstrate high safety standards and pass a handful of international audits.
According to ICAO accident statistics, Russia had an average of 5.6 accidents per one million departures from 2008 to 2020. However, it is more common for smaller carriers with fewer resources to be involved in accidents and incidents. This is especially true for those that rely on aging aircraft and fly into remote airports with complex terrain and extreme weather.