The Sukhoi SuperJet 100 Crash Investigation: It’s Just Getting Weird

Superjet 100 Image via Wikipedia
The Sukhoi Superjet 100 In Its Splendor

The investigation into the crash of a Russian Sukhoi Superjet last month in Indonesia that killed all on board is getting strange.  Amid the good news that both black boxes have been found, there have been headlines with unsupported speculation that’s so outlandish, it’s crazy to print.

What’s weirder is that these accusations would be bad for a minor opinion-oriented aviation blog (such as this one) to claim without proof.  But blogs aren’t starting these rumors.  The latest outlandish crash causes are being reported by major news organizations like the Telegraph, AFP, and Jakarta Post.  Here are the latest two seeemingly ridiculous theories of the SSJ-100 crash (I say ‘seemingly’ because who knows… if someone provides good proof, sure, I’ll try to believe it.)

It’s The United States’ Fault (Or Was It…?)

First is a story in the Moscow Times citing anonymous officials with the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, that the SSJ-100 was brought down by the United States military.

The theory is that a nearby U.S. air base has the capability to disrupt aircraft avionics from the ground, causing on-board equipment to “go haywire” and give the pilots false information. The article goes further to imply there may have been an even wider conspiracy involving the local air traffic controller who authorized a final descent for the aircraft of 1,800 meters (knowing there were mountains nearby).

The paper quotes a source, who quotes a source (that’s correct), that says:  “”Maybe he [the air traffic controller] didn’t see that the plane was heading straight at the mountain. On the other hand, we don’t rule out the possibility that this was deliberate industrial sabotage to drive our aircraft from the market.”

Alternate Hypothesis

Well, that’s impeccable logic.  Without some sort of proof or even a plausible scenario (i.e. if it was a military plane, or an unknown EMF blip was detected, or an across-the-board radar outage happened, etc.), that’s just as valid as saying it could have been…anything.

For instance, it probably was a meteor that hit the plane; because it’s certainly possible that if a meteor hits a plane, it can bring down that plane.  Therefore, it probably was a meteor.  Or better yet, it may have been something a bit more nefarious….(see the ‘Alternate Hypothesis’ photo).  It would certainly be plausible that if aliens exist, they have the capability to bring down an airliner.  Therefore: aliens.

But If Not Aliens…

This kind of jamming capability might certainly exist in the U.S. military.  But I ask: why would the U.S. use it for this purpose?  Why would the United States do any of the following things: A) try to crash a civilian aircraft (with an American on board)?  B) ‘Jam’  the SSJ-100’s instruments, but do such a poor job of it that they then have to jam the Jakarta radar as well.  And then for good measure, they have to conspire with the ATC on duty.  And finally, C) why would they do this in the name of a little friendly competition (which is the Russian-provided possible motive), when the U.S. has no company with a direct competitor to the SuperJet?  (Looking at you now, Brazil.)  Also I must say that if ‘B’ is correct, that’s some weak technology.

The Pilot Liked Crazy Fun!
The Face Of Fun? (R.I.P.)

Another theory that the UK Telegraph reports is that “leaked’ information revealed to a Russian newspaper indicates the pilot was perhaps showboating, or doing some type of aerobatic maneuver.  The report says that the co-pilot can be heard saying: “commander, we can’t go there, there’s a mountain”.

Again there is no proof, (although this is more plausible than the first assumption), and the truth comes down to pilot character and information sources.  There are three considerations we must make here:

First, we must question the source.  The report in the paper above explains further that the quote given is “not a direct quotation” and even that the precise words of the crew member “remain unknown”.

Second, this data would have been derived only from the Cockpit Voice Recorder (to date), so we don’t know what the plane was actually doing at the time.

Third, the Pilot In Command was Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Yablonstev (pictured).  According to, Mr. Yablonstev was 57 years old, and was a very, very, experienced pilot.  He had over 14,000 hours of flight time in 221 types of aircraft.  He had been an Air Force test pilot, and he had been chosen to be a Cosmonaut (although he never flew in space).  And then, he flew for an airline.

In good weather, in familiar terrain, at an airshow with only a few people on board, could this have happened?  Certainly.  Stupid things have been done in aviation to show off.  But those circumstances aside, (and assuming Mr. Yablonstev had not literally lost his mind), it would be immensely out of character for someone with his reputation and experience level to take such a chance.

Even if he was overly confident in his aircraft and had performed similar drastic types of maneuvers before, it’s possible.  But in the low ceiling weather conditions that existed then, in mountainous and unfamiliar terrain, and with a press contingent aboard, there’s almost no way this type of risk would have been taken by such a man.  Yes, apparently an ill-fated altitude reduction was requested by the pilot and approved, but was that showboating, or bad timing?  While pilot error of course cannot be ruled out, claiming he was doing aerobatics is quite a stretch.

Other Reporting Silliness: Flying Low

Neither of these theories should have even been reported without proof.  And the fact that major news organizations are running them without investigation is incredible.  Even more bizzare is that this is happening by publications that should know better.  All of the ‘black box’ data available to date has come solely from the Cockpit Voice Recorder.  But that didn’t stop the acclaimed Flying Magazine from running a story called “SuperJet Blackbox Shows No System Malfunctions“.  Again, this is based entirely on the voice recorder.  Apparently as far as Flying is concerned, the absence of audible alarms means there were no malfunctions (or they accepted that if they were told).  No thought is given that perhaps the absence of any audible alarms might actually indicate a system malfunction.


Comrade Obi-Wan

Yes, also stated in many publications (even some noted above), is the fact that Russia has a huge stake in the outcome of this investigation.  They will probably go to some lengths to ensure that the cause of the crash was not due to technical issues (officially).

And given that the SSJ-100 is somehow the Obi Wan Kenobi of the former Soviet’s commercial aircraft business (it’s their only hope), there may be a serious conflict of interest.  However, proposing and then perpetuating ill-conceived theories is just cruel and unusual for all those involved.  From the families of the victims who want answers, to the possible defamation of a dead pilot, (and to say nothing of international relations), premature conclusions benefit no one.