PERM, Russia // The pilot of a Russian airliner was behaving in a strange way and disobeying air controllers' orders, before the plane crashed killing 88 people, reports said. When flight controller Irek Bikbov asked the pilot whether things were normal on board, the pilot answered positively but his voice was strained as if under stress, Mr Bikbov said. The controller said the plane's pilot was behaving in a strange way and disobeyed orders to go lower on the final approach and instead taking the jet to a higher altitude.
"He was behaving in a strange manner and wasn't following my orders," Bikbov said. The plane's flight recorders have been found, and officials said it will take three to four weeks to analyse them. Officials also said today that an engine fire, not a terror attack, appears to have caused the crash. The right engine of the Boeing 737-500 apparently failed and caught fire as the plane was preparing to land yesterday in the city of Perm in the Ural Mountains, said the chief of Russia's federal Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, who is in charge of the crash probe.
Russia's Transport Minister Igor Levitin said that no trace of explosives had been found on the crash site about 1,200km (750km east of Moscow). Mr Levitin refuted earlier reports that claimed the plane had exploded in the air and media allegations that it could have been brought down by a terror attack. The plane slammed into the ground on the outskirts of this industrial city of 1 million people just a few hundred metres from small wooden houses and apartment buildings. Officials said no one on the ground was killed.
Flight 821, operated by a subsidiary of national flag carrier Aeroflot, carried 82 passengers, including six children under 10, and six crew members, the firm said. Aeroflot officials said the plane was circling at about 1,100 metres in "difficult weather conditions", including low cloud cover and rain, when it suddenly crashed. The jet crashed on a railway embankment, damaging a section of the track. Parts of the plane's fuselage reading "Aeroflot" and "Boeing" lay askew on the rails, along with clothing, life preservers and engine parts.
Russia and other former Soviet republics have some of the world's worst air traffic safety records in recent years, according to the International Air Transport Association. Experts blame weak government regulation, poor pilot training and a cost-cutting mentality among many carriers. * AP and staff