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Indonesian air force official reports wreckage found of Russian jet carrying 48

At the Jakarta, Indonesia, airport Wednesday, relatives inspect the list of passengers on the Russian Superjet-100.

Associated Press

At the Jakarta, Indonesia, airport Wednesday, relatives inspect the list of passengers on the Russian Superjet-100.

CIDAHU, Indonesia — An air force official says the wreckage of a Russian-made passenger jet that disappeared during a demonstration flight in Indonesia appears to have been found on the side of a volcano.

Maj. Ali Umri Lubis of Atang Sanjaya Air base in Bogor, Indonesia, told MetroTV on Thursday that helicopters found what is believed to be the plane on the side of a cliff on Mount Salak in West Java province. He said it was at an elevation of about 5,000 feet but had no further details.

The Sukhoi Superjet-100 was carrying 48 people — including potential buyers and journalists — when it dropped off the radar just 21 minutes after takeoff Wednesday. Search officials said no diplomats were on board; passengers included an American and French citizen.

The crash of the Russian-made passenger jet — the first new model to be produced in Russia since the Soviet Union collapsed — is a crushing blow to an aerospace industry eager for revival.

The Superjet took off from Jakarta, Indonesia, and disappeared from radar screens and lost contact with ground controllers about 20 minutes later over the mountainous terrain of West Java, where thick fog initially prevented search parties from locating the plane.

The Superjet carried much of Russia's hopes to reinvigorate an industry with a storied history of accomplishment. Its loss will deepen the malaise in an industry whose safety problems, breakdowns and lethal crashes have made it difficult to sell planes outside the former Soviet Union, Iran, Cuba and parts of Africa.

It also casts a pall over a week of celebration that has greeted Vladimir Putin's third inauguration as president. The loss occurred just as Russia's leaders were overseeing the lavish yearly display of military might that marks Victory Day, the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

The Superjet-100 was produced by the government-controlled Sukhoi company, which is far better known for its fighter planes.

"They have to clear this up very, very fast in terms of causes," said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at the Teal Group consultancy in Fairfax, Va. "This plane had given the Russians hope that they could resurrect some of what they once had."

At $31.7 million, the Superjet's price was one-third cheaper than comparable short-hop jets produced in Canada, and the company has said it hoped to sell 1,000 over the next two decades.

Last week, Sukhoi began a six-nation road show of presentations to Asian airline executives, and had already made stops in Myanmar, Pakistan and Kazakhstan. The flight in Indonesia was to have been followed by visits to Laos and Vietnam.

The plane took off for its second demonstration flight and disappeared from radar after requesting permission to descend from 10,000 to 6,000 feet in mountainous terrain.

Sukhoi said the aircraft had gone through a pre-flight check and that a first demonstration flight Wednesday morning went without technical problems. The aircraft did not report any failure before disappearing from radar screens, according to a statement posted online.

It said the aircraft had completed 500 fights without any reports of serious technical problems.

While it is rare for such a young aircraft to crash, it is not unprecedented — an Airbus 320 crashed during a demonstration flight in 1988, killing three people and injuring 50. Investigators determined the cause had been pilot error and found no evidence of a malfunction.

The A320 went on to be one of the world's best-selling aircraft models.

If analysts identify human error as the cause of the plane's loss, most of the existing 240 Superjet orders will stay on the books, said Sash Tusa of Echelon Research and Advisory in London, but "if it turns out there is some kind of major design flaw with the aircraft, those orders aren't worth the paper they are written on."

Information from the New York Times and Associated Press was used in this report.

Indonesian air force official reports wreckage found of Russian jet carrying 48 05/09/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 10, 2012 7:40am]
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