"On Tuesday, at 15:37 (Moscow Time), a Tu-154 airliner of the St. Petersburg-based Pulkovo Airlines sent an SOS signal and disappeared from radar contact at 15:39 (Moscow Time)," Channel One reported. "Preliminary data suggests that the plane crashed 45 kilometers (28 mi) north of Donetsk."Later it was determined that the plane crashed near the village of Sukha Balka.
"At an altitude of 11 500 metres (37,000 feet), the aircraft sent three SOS signals, dropped sharply in altitude and sent another SOS at 3000 metres (9,000 feet)," said Anatoli Samoshin, vice Flight Operations Director at Pulkovo Aviation Enterprise. There were no other communications.
Approximately 260 rescue personnel arrived at the scene which was blocked off by the authorities. The field of debris and bodies was about 400 metres (1,300 feet) in length. On Wednesday, Ukrainian emergency service personnel concluded their search for bodies, confirming that 170 people perished in the accident. Due to the extensive crash forces and post-accident fires, rescuers believed that it would be very difficult to identify the majority of the victims on site. The aircraft belly flopped in a swampy area, breaking up on impact. The search for black boxes, which was interrupted for the night, concluded in the morning when both recorders were found. The flight recorders were later transported to Moscow for analysis.
The crash was witnessed by a local farmer and a young couple seeking shelter from the rain. They told reporters that they saw the aircraft falling out of the sky and that it burst into flames upon hitting the ground. They could see people in a number of seats that were thrown out of the aircraft on impact, but none showed any signs of life.
Early reports suggest that Flight 612 may have been caught in a thunderstorm; immediately prior to the crash, the pilots notified air traffic control that they were experiencing severe turbulence. According to the residents of a nearby town, the weather at the time of the crash was violent enough to cause power outages and cell phone disruptions on the ground. Authorities on the scene have speculated that the aircraft was struck by lightning which may have initiated an onboard fire. However, another theory has since been proposed. Based on various information, including the partially decrypted chat logs from a recovered flight recorder, crash investigators believe that the aircraft climbed to an altitude higher than the maximum for which it was designed, causing the aircraft to enter into a flat spin from which it never recovered.
Interstate Aviation Committee after initial decoding of flight recorders data issued the following flight safety recommendations: avoid entering thunderstorms, follow all maximum height limitations based on aircraft load and outside air temperature, and to improve pilot training when working in these situations. According to Annex 13 "Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation" of Chicago Convention IAC does not issue information to public about people or organizations responsible for a crash — the only goal of an IAC investigation is to improve flight safety. Determining the guilty parties can be done only during trial.
The MAK final report concluded:
The cause of the crash of the Tu-154M RA-85 185 airlines "Pulkovo" was the aircraft entering in manual flight mode, supercritical angles of attack and stall mode with the subsequent transition to a flat spin and collision with the ground with a large vertical velocity. In the absence in the Flight Manual (RLE) and crew training programs of recommendations on peculiarities of piloting in the longitudinal channel in manual mode and using the trim mechanism, and inability to work on the skills of piloting the aircraft in hand mode at high altitudes and angles of attack due to the lack of appropriate simulators, the crew while avoiding area of thunderstorms and turbulence allowed the aircraft to enter pitch oscillations exceeding the operational range of angles of attack. Lack of control over flight speed and not following the instructions of RLE to prevent the aircraft entering stall mode and poor crew coordination allowed the situation to escalate into a catastrophic one.
Cockpit Voice Recorder Transcript:
CPT - Captain
NAV - Navigator
TWR - Tower (center)
CREW - unknown (unidentified)
CO - Copilot
ST - Trainee (copilot in training)
### - explicit
11:33:06 CPT: Lets temporarily go to 400 or whatever, this is completely ###. Yes, ask for 390, otherwise we won't be able to go around!
11:33:12,5 [Sound of Angle of Attack alarm (AoA)]
11:33:17 NAV: Changed
11:33:20 NAV: Tower, this is Pulkovo 612
11:33:21 TWR: Pulkovo 612, receiving you.
11:33:22 CPT: Climb, yes?
11:33:24 NAV: Pulkovo 612, temporarily requesting flight level 390.
11:33:28 CPT: Tell him that its pretty shaky.
11:33:34 TWR: Pulkovo 612, cleared for 3-9-0.
11:33:34 NAV: Climbing to 3-9-0 thank you very much, Pulkovo 6-12
11:33:37 CPT: We will still get this ### (unintelligeble)
11:33:39 CREW: (unintelligeble)
11:33:45 CPT: Where are those (unintelligeble)?!
11:34:24 CPT: That ### is ###! (referring to the thunder storm - author)
11:34:27 CPT: Holy ###!
11:34:32 CPT: She, oh and hail too?
11:34:40 CPT: Give me (unintelligeble)
11:34:43 CPT: And where to? Maybe to the side? Igor, move a bit more.
11:34:48 CPT: Igor.
11:34:49 NAV: What?
11:34:49,5 CPT: Maybe to the side? Where else can we get away from her (Referring to the storm cloud - author)
11:34:52 CREW: (unintelligeble). No.
11:34:54 CPT: Tell me, did we take 390, Andrew?
11:34:56 ST: Pulkovo 612, we are at flight level 390.
11:35:00,3 CPT: Say something? Ah ###! (this is when the crew lost control of the aircraft)
11:35:05 CREW: We are descending (unintelligeble)
11:35:06 CPT: Where the ### are we descending, ###!
11:35:09 CPT: Full power, ###!
11:35:10 EN: Full power.
11:35:12 CPT: Tell them that we are ### descending, ###!
11:35:13 ST: Descending, Pulkovo 612.
11:35:15,9 [Computer Alarm - AoA].
11:35:17 CPT: Carefull.
11:35:20,9 [Computer Alarm - AoA]
11:35:22 CPT: Watch the bank!
11:35:23 CREW: At full power.
11:35:28 NAV: Pulkovo 612, descending to 3-6-0.
11:35:30,8 [Computer Alarm - AoA]
11:35:31 CPT: Say ### severe turbulance.
11:35:33 NAV: Serious turbulance.
11:35:34 TWR: Pulkovo aircraft, descend 3-6-0.
11:35:36 CPT: ### descending!
11:35,37 CREW: (unintelligeble).
11:35:41 CPT: Carefull, we're all holding it.
11:35:44 CPT: Holding, ###!
11:35:45 EN: Generators (unintelligeble).
11:35:48 EN: Flameout. Descending. Vanya, flameout. (Vanya is a kind form of "Ivan" - author.)
11:35:55 CPT: (unintelligeble).
11:35:58 CREW: (unintelligeble)
11:36:02 CPT: Watch the speed, speed!Ñêîðîñòè ñìîòðèòå, ñêîðîñòè.
11:36:04 CREW: Well, went down a bit.
11:36:07 CREW: No, normal.
11:36:22 CPT: How much did you say? (referring to G force - author)
11:36:23 NAV: (unintelligeble) 245. (most likely course - author)
11:36:24 CPT: What course, ###...!
11:36:25 NAV (unintelligeble)
11:36:28 CPT: (unintelligeble)
11:36:28 CREW: I understand
11:36:29 CREW: Only circling.
11:36:31 Crew: Correct
11:36:32 CPT: Vova, c'mon, command. (Vova, the Co-pilot was Russian Champion for aerobatics. At that moment he was standing behind the trainee - author)
11:36:36 NAV: Left, Vanya
11:36:37 CPT: Thats it, ###.
11:36:40 CREW: Descending Descending!
11:36:55 CREW: Tell them that we have mayday.
11:36:57-11:36:59,6 ST: S0S, 612, SOS...
11:37:01 TWR: Pulkovo 612, I do not understand you.
11:37:02 CPT: Fuck, whats our speed?
11:37:03-11:37:05,2 NAV: S0S, S0S, Pulkovo 612, SOS, SOS, SOS, Pulkovo 612
11:37:06 CPT: What's our speed? What's our speed?
11:37:41,9 CREW: (unintelligeble)
11:37:45 CPT: Left, c'mon!
11:37:49,1 CREW: (unintelligeble)
11:37:50,5 CPT: Vova, c'mon help out Andrew?
11:37:55 NAV: Altitude 2000, Vanya, 2000!
11:38:01 CPT: ###!
11:38:03 CREW: Forget (unintelligeble)
11:38:04,1 CPT: (unintelligeble) right.
11:38:05,6 EN: (unintelligeble) falling.
11:38:06,9 NAV: Now left, left (unintelligeble).
11:38:07,9 CREW: (unintelligeble).
11:38:09 CREW: I didn't see it
11:38:09,9 CO: Oh my god...
11:38:11,6 CPT: Pull up, Pull up, Pull up, Pull up! Andrew! Eh, pull up! Pull up Andrew! (unintelligeble)
11:38:20,3 CPT: And now TO power
11:38:21,1 CREW: Left leg, get rid of the bank.
11:38:23,1 CO: (unintelligeble)... don't kill
11:38:23,7 CPT: Andrew, don't panic!
11:38:26,5 CREW: Don't kill! Don't kill! (most likely trainee Andrew Khodnevich - author)
11:38:27,5 CPT: ### terrain!
11:38:28,3 CREW: (unintelligeble)
11:38:30 SCREAM. [end of tape]