The story of the Operafjell crash

The crash of a Tupolev Tu-154M chartered by Vnukovo Airlines with registration number RA-85621 remains the deadliest crash in Norwegian aviation history. On August 29, 1996, Vnukovo Airlines Flight 2801 took off from Vnukovo International Airport (VKO) in Moscow, carrying Russian and Ukrainian coal miners to the remote Norwegian Arctic Circle territory of Svalbard.

Svalbard Airport (LYR) is the northernmost commercial airport in the world. Image: GCmaps.

The plane, an eight-year-old Russian medium-range, narrow-body, three-engine Tupolev Tu-154M airliner, was commanded by Evgeny Nikolaevich, 44, and co-pilot Boris Fedorovich Sudarev, 58. The navigator and flight engineer were Igor Petrovich Akimov, 50, and Anatoly Matveevich Karapetrov, 38. The cabin crew consisted of five flight attendants and two technicians.

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The plane left Moscow in time

The plane left Moscow on time at 8:44 a.m. for the three-and-a-half-hour flight to the coal-rich Soviet mining colony in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. The plane climbed to 35,000ft and cruised at a speed of 310mph as it headed for the world’s most northerly public airport near Longyearbyen in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago.

Svalbard Airport (LYR) was built by the German Luftwaffe during World War II and featured a single 7,020ft runway running east to west at an elevation of 92ft. Bodø Air Traffic Control (ATC) controls flights to and from Svalbard Airport in an uncontrolled area with no approach service. On the day of the accident, it was raining intermittently with wind gusts between 17 and 35 mph with visibility of 6.2 miles.

At 09:55 local time, the pilot of Flight 2801 radioed Bodø ATC requesting clearance to begin the aircraft‘s descent but received no response from Norwegian controllers. The captain, who had already landed at Svalbard airport, requested permission to land on runway 10, which was in the opposite direction to runway 28, in which planes landed on the day of the accident. accident. Longyear’s Automatic Flight Information Service (AFIS) reported current weather information and that Runway 28 was in use. Due to language problems, this was not understood by the crew.

The plane had skidded

At 10:10 a.m. local time, the plane was flying at 5,000 feet and turning for its final approach. At 1018, the pilot turned off the autopilot as the aircraft crossed the localizer centerline 31.5 miles from the airport.

At 1020, the pilot in charge of the aircraft turned 291 degrees to adjust for the drift causing a deviation of 2.3 miles from the approach axis. At 10:22 a.m., the aircraft turned left and entered an area of ​​turbulence created by the nearby mountains. During the initial approach, the plane’s altimeter alert had gone off several times, indicating that the plane was less than 2,460 feet above the ground.

Six seconds before the plane flew into the nearly 3,000ft high mountain of Operafjellet, the altimeter warning activated, but the pilots took no evasive action. The plane was completely destroyed by the impact, killing all 141 passengers and crew. To this day, it remains the deadliest accident in Norwegian aviation history.


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Investigation

Although the area belonged to the Soviet Union after purchasing it for mining in 1927, the Norwegian authorities took full responsibility for the recovery and investigation. The investigation concluded that there had been a controlled accident with the terrain caused by pilot error. Contributing to the impact was that the horizontal situation indicator (HSI) was set incorrectly and the navigator had set the GPS to the wrong mode. Additionally, citing the crew’s poor English and the fact that they were trying to land on the runway in the wrong direction, their lack of awareness of where they were taken to crashed.

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