The image of Ukraine's aerospace industry has been dealt a severe blow by an Antonov An-140 crash in Iran, which has killed several of the country's leading aviation specialists. The twin turboprop commuter aircraft was carrying a delegation of engineers, journalists and industrialists to the roll-out of the second licence-built An-140 at Iranian manufacturer HESA. Most of those killed were involved with the project.

Among the dead are Antonov deputy director general Jaroslav Goloborodko, who supervised the Iranian programme, known as the Iran-140, and deputy chief designer Vasily Shishkov. KhGAAP lost five departmental directors, a chief technologist, a section head and six engineers. The chairman of Elektropribor and directors of Avionika, FED and Giproniiaviaprom also perished, along with four directors of other Ukrainian aerospace companies. Russia lost directors of Rubin and Agregat and the deputy director and chief specialist of MNPK Avionika. The ZMKB Progress engine company's representative in Iran was among the dead.

Iran's minister of transport, Akhmad Khoram, has vowed that the Iran-140 programme will continue. "I do not think this catastrophe will stall the project," he says. HESA intends to licence-build 80 airframes for local carriers, with a maximum production rate of 12 a year by 2004.

The commuter aircraft, operated by Aeromist-Kharkov, crashed on 23 December near the village of Bargabad, 70km (40nm) from its destination at Isfahan Airport, near HESA's factory, killing all 44 people on board.

The aircraft (UR14003) took off from Ukraine's Kharkov Airport at 11.15 local time, then made a fuel stop in Trabzon, Turkey.

Its crew consisted of two pilots, a navigator and three technicians. Capt Gennady Antsibor and co-pilot Sergei Chainchenko, with 2,000h and 6,600h respectively, were test pilots with long experience of the An-140. Both had flown the route to Isfahan several times.

The flight data and cockpit voice recorders have been found, and early reports say these registered no hardware failures before impact.

Last week, a dispute was emerging over the cause of the crash, with Iranian civil aviation authority head Ruhuddin Abutalleri claiming pilot error was to blame and Ukrainian minister for economic policy Anatoly Myalitsa, formerly general director of the KhGAAP factory that builds the An-140, stating: "There were no technical failures: the human factor caused this catastrophe."

But some Ukrainian sources insist that this was a controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accident related to poor air traffic control services. The sources say local ATC radar was unserviceable at the time. The aircraft hit high ground in darkness at about 22.00 local time during its approach.

Isfahan is on a plain ringed by mountains with some hills nearer the city and airport. A second flight carrying the official Ukrainian delegation to HESA, planned for arrival in the evening of 24 December, was postponed until the morning of 25 December to avoid landing at night.

Iran suffered a recent CFIT accident involving an Iran Air Tours Tupolev Tu-154M that crashed into a mountain on a non-precision approach to Khorramabad on 12 February 2002, killing 117 people.

One of the victims of the An-140 crash was Ukrainian aviation journalist Sergei Skrynnikov, whose photographs have regularly appeared in Flight International for a number of years. Aged 43, he was married with a family.

Source: Flight International