Vnukovo Airlines Flight 2801

Vnukovo Airlines Flight 2801

Infobox Airliner accident|name=Vnukovo Airlines Flight 2801
Date=August 29, 1996
Type=Controlled flight into terrain
Site=Operafjellet mountain, Spitsbergen, Svalbard
Aircraft Type=Tupolev Tu-154M
Operator=Vnukovo Airlines
Tail Number=RA-85621

Vnukovo Airlines Flight 2801 was a chartered flight from the Russian company Vnukovo Airlines which on August 29 1996 crashed into a mountain on Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago killing all 141 people on board.


The plane was a Tupolev Tu-154M which had been built in 1986. The plane was registered RA-85621.


The flight departed the Vnukovo Airport in Moscow at 04:44 GMT. The flight was en route to the Svalbard Airport, Longyear, Norway with Russian and Ukrainian coal mine workers and their relatives aboard.

Landing and disaster

The problems for Flight 2801 started upon approach to the airport at Svalbard. The flight crew had prepared to land on runway 10 and started the descent at 09:56 GMT. However, because of the wind conditions the runway was being used in the opposite direction, as runway 28. The weather was cloudy at the time.

The flight crew requested landing on runway 10, but communications with the air traffic control at Svalbard were hampered by language difficulties, and the request was not granted. The crew elected to make a landing on runway 28, something which required a slight change of direction.

The flight crew started to turn the plane to an inbound course at 08:17 GMT, 25.9 km from the airport. The radio altimeter warning sounded three times, first at 08:17:43 for six seconds, then again at 08:18:16 for two seconds and again at 08:18:21 for six seconds. The first officer disengaged the autopilot for pitch, while maintaining it for roll.

The pilots made some turns to keep the plane on the correct landing course, but at 08:19 the first officer called out a worry that they might have made a turn too early, and there was confusion in the cockpit as to where they were. The maneuvers made left the plane about 3.7 km to the right of their approach centerline. At 08:21:36 GMT the navigator reported that they were flying too high and called for the plane to descend.

At 08:22:17 GMT, the Ground Proximity Warning System turned on warning of impact in nine seconds. The captain seeing the terrain cried out "Horizon!" while the first officer cried "Mountains!".

At 08:22:23 GMT (10:22:23 local time), the plane crashed into Operafjellet (The Opera Mountain) at an altitude of 907 m, 14 km away from the airport. The plane had flown 3.7 km to the right of the flight centreline when it impacted the mountain. The crash killed all 141 people on board. It is the single deadliest plane crash to have occurred on Norwegian soil.

Recovery and investigation

The wreckage of the airplane was located at 10:06 GMT (12:06 local time), and salvage personnel were at the site half an hour later. Most of the wreckage had settled on a plateau, but large parts had fallen down a cliff. Much of it was covered by snow. It was quickly determined that there were no survivors. The recovery of bodies was completed by September 5.

The disaster had a profound impact of the small Russian mining communities Barentsburg and Pyramiden in Svalbard and may have hastened the abandonment of the Pyramiden settlement ref|abpyr. In Russian media, initial reports were that there were five survivors, something which caused impatience at what was perceived as a slow recovery effort.

The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder were recovered. The voice recorder was discovered by two Russian mountaineers who were arrested for searching the site, but then released and allowed to join the investigation ref|arrest.

The Norwegian investigation by the official disaster board determined that the crash had been an instance of controlled flight into terrain. They concluded that there were 18 significant factors which contributed to the accident ref|eighteen.

#Lack of procedure for offset localizer approach for setting approach course on the Horizontal Situation Indicator.
#The wrong course chosen on both HSIs, which together with the Course Deviation Indicator hinted that the plane was being blown to the left and needed to adjust course to the right.
#The navigator in a difficult situation with the landing course unclear.
#The crew did not know all about the Aerodrome Flight Information Service, misinterpreting its information as orders.
#Crew's lack of proficiency in English made communication with AFIS difficult.
#The navigator was overworked.
#The pilots did not check the navigator's work.
#The direct communication between AFIS and the navigator was a breach of procedure.
#The first officer had asked the navigator to handle the horizontal steering, thereby increasing the navigator's workload.
#Unsatisfactory crew resource management.
#A new approach briefing for landing at runway 28 instead of 10 had not been conducted.
#The crew had correctly corrected course for wind, but did not do it in relation to the courses center line.
#The HSI gave confusing indications, making the crew uncertain of their position.
#The pilots did not have an approach map in front of them as they landed.
#The crew were unaware of the possibility to use a VHF Direction Finding system to aid them.
#Overreliance on the GPS system.
#The attempt to land without full agreement on if the plane should steer left or right.
#Not ascending to a safe altitude in spite of the confusion.

See also

*Aviation in Norway


[ Dagbladet:En moderne spøkelsesby (A modern ghost town)] (in Norwegian)

[ Russian team defies Norwegians, finds plane's 2nd black box]

[ Norwegian article on several Norwegian disasters] PDF file, page 142 ("Flystyrt på Svalbard"), in Norwegian

External links

* [ description of the crash]
* [ Cockpit Voice Recorder transcript]
* [ Minister of Justice Grete Faremo's report to parliament] (in Norwegian)

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