By David Kaminski-Morrow in London
Armenian national carrier Armavia has confirmed one of its Airbus A320 had missed one approach due to bad weather and was attempting a second before it crashed this morning off Russia's Black Sea coast.
Poor weather conditions had forced the pilots of an Armavia Airbus A320 to attempt a second approach to Sochi Airport in southern Russia when the jet crashed into the Black Sea, the company says. Armavia states that the crew of flight U8 967, operating from Yerevan to Sochi, had received information en route that weather conditions at the destination were poor and planned to divert to the Georgian capital Tbilisi.
“Information from air traffic control about an improvement in the weather conditions [at Sochi] was then received,” says the airline. It says that the crew continued to the Russian city but, upon arrival, found that the weather had not improved.
Russia’s transport ministry says that the weather conditions at Sochi did not meet minimum criteria of 100m (330ft) cloud ceiling and 1,500m visibility.
The ministry states that the A320 crew abandoned its initial approach to Sochi before opting to make a second landing attempt, adding: “After the [decision to conduct] the second approach, contact with the crew ceased.”
It says that, just before the Sochi Airport air traffic controllers lost radar contact with the A320, it was operating at a height of around 920ft (280m) and a speed of 135kt (250km/h). The jet came down at about 02:15.
Search operations are being conducted with two specialised rescue vessels and at least 20 other watercraft. The ministry says: “As soon as the weather will allow, helicopters will also be brought in to assist the rescue work.”
Both the ministry and Russian accident investigation agency, the Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK), have dispatched representatives to the crash site. The ministry says that the accident occurred during “adverse” weather conditions. MAK has not made any statement on the weather at the time.
Meteorological data from the Sochi Airport weather station at 02:00 indicate the presence of cumulonimbus clouds but only light precipitation.
Data shows that the sky was overcast and that cumulonimbus clouds, the result of strong convective activity, were in the area. It also indicates that the area was experiencing light rain showers and mist but that visibility extended to 4km (2.2nm).
Armavia has confirmed that there were 105 passengers and eight crew members on board the aircraft. MAK says that there were no survivors, adding: “All members of the crew and passengers perished when it struck the surface of the water.”
Sochi airport was also the destination of an August 2004 Sibir Airlines Tupolev Tu-154 flight from Moscow Domodedovo which was brought down by an axplosion, killing 38 passengers and eight crew. Russian authorities concluded terrorism was the cause for the incicent and a second, simultaneouls fatal hijacking.