The airplane maker whose product crashed demands restitution

If you think you know what the game of Russian roulette is all about, think again.

And if you think that you know what the game of snag-shifting is all about, then, think again, too.

A Russian aircraft manufacturer has been out to prove that even the proverbial American lawsuit-happiness is nothing particularly special. What you can do, we can do, and better than you.

Here’s a real-life story to show you how little we all know about Russian roulette and snag-shifting. It will show you how little we all know about Russia, period.

The maker of the Yak-42 aircraft that crashed in September of 2011 while taking off from Yaroslavl is demanding that Vadim Timofeyev of the Yak-Service company pay the manufacturer almost 18 million rubles. That would be a tad above $374,000 in Canadian money, or a little over $322,000 south of the 49th parallel at today’s exchange rates. Yak-Service owned the doomed plane.

Why? Yak-Service’s lack of proper service has caused irreparable harm to the Yakovlev aircraft manufacturers and their reputation. People have been wary of buying the machine since the tragic crash.

Thus the allegation.

The plane was carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team to their next Kontinental Hockey League game in Minsk.

Not that the Yakovlev company wouldn’t have a case.

Originally, investigators blamed the flight crew. They alleged that instead of accelerating, as would be expected on takeoff, they engaged the braking mechanism. Several months later, independent investigators concluded outdated technology that was just crying for proper maintenance, if not replacement, was to blame. Local authorities begged to differ, but further probes confirmed that the independent investigators had it right.

While not excluding pilot failure, official Russian investigating commission said that Vadim Timofeyev – who was serving as second-in-command at the Yak-Service at the time – violated all air transportation safety rules. He should not have let the crew in the cockpit, to begin with. The pilots were not qualified and their experience was negligible, too.

Besides, and now it becomes really intriguing, the commission found that Timofeyev has arranged that the captain would receive his licence based on fake documentation. And the co-pilot was not supposed to be in the cockpit, either: he hadn’t finished the appropriate flying lessons on a Yak-42.

In fact, the investigators said, not only were individual crew members incompetent, but Timofeyev had been aware of it. He, say the investigators, went so far as to ignore data analyses from earlier flights. Those data allegedly had shown long before the fatal flight that the captain had been making mistakes for quite some time. With no consequences, to boot.

Whether it matters or not is irrelevant, but the investigating commission went on to stress that the two pilots and their flight engineer have only shared three joint flights among themselves. And, on top of it all, one of the flight crew members had been under the influence of a medication whose label says specifically that one should not operate any machinery, such as automobiles. Flying an airplane would fit the label warning, too.

Strangely enough, Timofeyev is the only person accused of any responsibility. He, of course, denies any guilt. He blames technical errors and, possibly, pilot errors, but not himself.

Still, based on the investigating commission report, the Khrunichev State Space Science Manufacturing Centre, the company that builds the Yak-42 aircraft, said it had enough evidence to demand restitution. The court looked at it and told the company to submit the paperwork. That, under Russian laws, means the court is willing to consider it.

There have been numerous other factors the court will have to consider. Such as: why did the plane leave a full 24 hours later than scheduled? Is it true that it was overloaded?

There are several questions nobody has bothered to ask. Not yet, in any case.

For example: if it is true that Vadim Timofeyev ignored warnings about that particular captain’s incompetence, who paid him for keeping his eyes closed, and how much? Similar questions should emerge in the context of the entire flight crew.

If it is true that the plane was in a sorry technical state to begin with, who allowed it to take the taxiway, never mind the runway in an attempt to take off? Whose responsibility would that be? And who ignored this responsibility? For how much? Paid by whom? To whom?

Of the 45 people on board, 43 died at the crash site. One of the two rescued from the wreck died five days later in hospital. Only the avionics flight engineer, Alexander Sizov, survived. And he told an investigator that so far as he was aware, the plane had been in perfect order when the crew took it over to prepare for the flight. Now, of course, this quotation comes from the Pravda newspaper. Pravda means the truth in English. Which means that no sane person would believe it – even if it were telling the truth and nothing but, so help us Nature. Except for the hapless Vadim Timofeyev, the only person now blamed for the tragedy. To him Sizov’s testimony equals freedom from the seven years in prison he would get if found guilty.

So, what about the Russian investigestigators’ findings? How independent was the commission, anyway?

How reliable are the experts’ findings that say, among other shocking stuff, that when Russian crews abort takeoffs, make second runs or divert their planes to other airports they can risk losing their bonuses or face other sanctions as carriers focus on cutting costs?

If this is true, one would understand why Russian pilots are reluctant to take emergency measures which might lead to delays. Of course, how does this finding fit in with another accusation, namely, that the flight was 24 hours late?

The newest findings basically say that the plane’s owner, Yak-Service, failed to observe safety standards and adequately train the crew.

But the questions keep coming back. In a country whose business operations are (and have been for centuries) based on graft, who paid whom, how much, and for what steps that allowed Yak-Service to continue with its operations?

The answer is not forthcoming. And it will not be. Not in foreseeable future, anyway.

That the tragedy took 44 lives? Well, too bad. That it cancelled Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s season? Well, too bad, too.

Somebody, somewhere, must be laughing their heads off. Who?

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