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Report: Russian pilot error caused crash

MOSCOW -- A Russian pilot inadvertently put the wheel brakes on during takeoff, causing a crash that killed 44 people including a professional ice hockey team, investigators said yesterday, citing lax oversight and insufficient crew training as key reasons behind the error.

The Interstate Aviation Committee said the Sept. 7 crash of the Yak-42 plane near Yaroslavl in central Russia occurred because one of the two pilots accidentally activated the brakes and then yanked a control wheel to his chest, pulling the plane up too sharply in a desperate attempt to take off.

One of the worst aviation disasters ever in sports, it shocked Russia and the world of hockey, as 36 players, coaches and staff of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team died. One player who survived the crash died later of burns.

A flight engineer was the sole survivor.

Alexei Morozov, leader of the investigation, said the crew should have aborted the takeoff the moment they realized it was going wrong. He said one possible reason the pilot obstinately still tried to take off was a fear of reprisals from his employer.

Industry experts say 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.

Pilot took drugAlso, Morozov said, the second pilot was taking phenobarbital, a sedative used to control seizures that is prohibited for pilots. He said the pilot suffered from polyneuropathy, a neurological disorder that could affect the feet and hands and cause weakness and loss of sensation. It had passed unnoticed during an official medical certification, although investigators found that the pilot had consulted private doctors about it.

Morozov blamed the plane's owner, Yak-Service, for failing to observe safety standards and adequately train the crew. The company was closed in September by Russia's federal aviation authority following a check that found severe violations.

He said the pilots, who had flown another type of plane with a slightly different cockpit layout, apparently had never learned the correct position for their feet on takeoff. In the Yak-42, like most other Russian and Western planes now, he said, a pilot steers by pressing the lower part of the pedals and activates the brakes by pressing the upper part.

One or both of the pilots left their feet resting on the pedals in line with old habits, inadvertently activating the brakes and slowing the plane down on takeoff. At first they didn't notice the brakes were on, and then they made the fatal mistake of failing to halt the takeoff, Morozov said.

Multiple mistakesThe plane was already past half of the 9,900-foot runway when the crew tried and failed to lift it. Both pilots then threw their body weight on the steering wheels, desperately trying to lift the plane, and managed to apply even more pressure on the brakes while doing so.

The jet sped past the runway and ran nearly 1,485 feet onto the grass before finally taking off. It lifted up too sharply and immediately banked on its wing, crashing on the side of the Volga River, 150 miles northeast of Moscow.

The team had been heading to Minsk, Belarus, to play its opening game of the Kontinental Hockey League season.

Among the dead was Lokomotiv coach and National Hockey League veteran Brad McCrimmon, a Canadian, who was an Islanders assistant coach in 1997-99.

Others included assistant coach Alexander Karpovtsev, who starred with the New York Rangers; and Pavol Demitra, who played for the St. Louis Blues and the Vancouver Canucks and was the Slovakian national team captain.

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