The pilot of a plane that crash-landed and burst into flames Sunday evening at a Moscow airport said the plane was hit by lighting, but experts say planes are designed to withstand lightning strikes.
The plane, a Sukhoi SSJ100 from the Russian airline Aeroflot, took off from Sheremetyevo Airport on Sunday evening but turned around within minutes to make an emergency landing.
Video shows the plane landing hard on the runway as the back of the aircraft bursts into flames.
Experts are searching for the reason for the hard landing and the fire, which left 41 people dead.
Pilot Denis Yevdokimov told Zvezda TV and the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper “because of lightning, we had a loss of radio communication” during the short flight.
He also said the plane’s electronic flight system failed because of the lightning strike.
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Flight attendant Tatiana Kasatnika said in a video posted on YouTube that “we took off, got into a cloud, there was strong hail and, at that moment, there was a pop and some kind of flash, like electricity.”
Storms were passing through the Moscow area when the plane made its emergency landing.
Planes are designed to be able to withstand lightning
Aviation expert Wayne McNeal, president of aviation consulting company McNeal & Associates, says most planes are built to withstand a lightning strike.
“It usually hits the nose (of the plane), and the nose cone itself, when they make them, is designed to take that lightning strike,” McNeal said.
According to an article from the Flight Safety Foundation, lightning strikes airplanes once every 1,000 flight hours on average — or, more succinctly, at least once per plane per year.
Conventionally, planes with an outer layer made from aluminum would conduct electricity well — and would allow for lightning to flow along the exterior of the plane and leave through another point.
Other planes, such as the Sukhoi aircraft, are made from composite materials, McNeal explained.
While composite materials are not a good conductor of electricity, an industry standard is to combine the composite with a wire or metal mesh that would allow electricity to flow.
McNeal said the lightning strike could temporarily affect communications because it is a “staticky sort of thing” but that it shouldn’t have knocked out the systems entirely.
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Looking into other explanations
Investigators are searching for the cause of the crash.
Russia’s main investigative body said both the plane’s data and voice flight recorders have been recovered from the charred wreckage.
Committee spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko was also quoted by Russian news agencies on Monday as saying that investigators were looking into three main possibilities behind the cause of the disaster: inexperienced pilots, equipment failure and bad weather.
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“What I heard, it was a heavy landing, where they bounced on (the runway). That could generate some friction on the landing gear and (expose), say, hydraulic fluid … that could catch on fire,” McNeal said.
The plane reportedly didn’t jettison fuel before the landing, which is common procedure.
The SSJ100 plane, also called the Superjet, has had previous issues ever since it was put into service in 2011.
A Mexican airline, Interjet, grounded Superjets in December 2016 and Russia’s aviation authority ordered inspection of all Superjets in the country in 2017 because of problems with rear stabilizers in the tail.
—With files from the Associated Press