Why did a Russian MiG-29K crash into the Mediterranean?

November 23, 2016 Mikhail Khodorenok, Gazeta.ru
A Russian Air Force fighter crashed into the sea on Nov. 13 while attempting a landing on the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier after a mission to Syria. However, officials and government sources did not spend much time commenting on the story. Gazeta.ru tried to understand what had happened exactly.
aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov
Photo: The Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. Source: AFP/East News

A Russian fighter trying to land on the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier after flying a mission as part of Russia’s Syrian operation on Nov. 13 crashed into the Mediterranean Sea due to the failure of both engines, according to sources in the Russian Defense Ministry.

A source familiar with the organization of flights on the aircraft carrier told Gazeta.ru that the MiG-29KR from the Admiral Kuznetsov missile aircraft carrier had fallen into the sea because both of its engines broke down in mid-flight.

The source added that the fighter's pilot, who is chief of the service for Black Sea aviation flight safety and who ejected from the plane, has more than 200 landings on the Admiral Kuznetsov under his belt.

A source from the Defense Ministry also said that the pilot is highly qualified and is "one of the most experienced" of those trained in deck landings.

After the incident the Defense Ministry's information and mass communications department made an official statement explaining the reason for the plane's technical malfunction.

Urgency during landing

The source told Gazeta.ru that the deck of the Admiral Kuznetsov has four arresting gears.

When carrying out a landing the pilot must try to have the plane's tailhook catch the second cable or if it can, the third (there is even a fourth, reserve cable). If the pilot tries to catch the first cable, there is a danger the tailhook may touch the ship's deck, especially since at sea the aircraft carrier is subject to rocking.

On Nov. 13, the day of the accident, three MiG-29KRs took off from the aircraft carrier. After completing their flight missions the planes returned to the ship. The landings were to be conducted at an interval of three-four minutes.

The first fighter landed without any complications.

The second MiG-29KR caught the second arresting cable, tore it and in the end caught the fourth, reserve cable. The torn second cable got tangled up with the third cable and incapacitated it for a plane's landing.

For some time it was basically impossible for the planes to land on the aircraft carrier. At that time the third MiG-29KR was approaching.

Since the aircraft carrier's team needed some time to fix the arresting cables, the flight supervisor told the pilot of the third plane to land after circling the ship a second time.

While the plane was waiting to land both of its engines broke down. According to a preliminary theory, fuel had stopped entering the engines. In such cases, a jet plane plummets like a rock and the pilot can do only one thing: eject.

First published in Russian by Gazeta.ru

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