Russian aviation watchdogs announced their findings in a two-month investigation into the crash that wiped out an entire KHL team. Despite an aging airplane that had raised numerous safety red flags, the accident is chalked up to pilot error. But it's operator Yak-Servis who takes most of the blame.
One or both of the pilots accidentally activated the brake on takeoff, than attempted to take off too sharply and before the plane had attained enough speed. Both had recently flown on a slightly different model, in which pilots manipulate foot pedals during take off. In this model, the foot pedals engaged the brake. At a news conference, the head of the probe says Yak-Servis failed to properly train the crew.
The second pilot was found to have a nerve condition which would have affected the feeling in his feet. He was also found to be under the influence of phenobarbital, a barbiturate that would have dulled his reflexes. Either should have been enough to prevent him from flying.
The saddest part is that the accidental braking was not a fatal misstep; there was still plenty of runway to bring the plane to a halt. But instead, the pilots tried to take off in impossible circumstances.
"A properly trained pilot would have immediately aborted the takeoff when he saw the nose failing to lift," said one veteran pilot who took part in the probe. It's speculated that aborted takeoffs are avoided whenever possible in a Russian industry that's cutting costs at every turn. It's not uncommon for pilots to be docked salary or bonuses when their employers are forced to pay for delays. In this unfortunate case, the cost was 44 lives.