CVR – Bashkirian Airlines Flight 2937

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Photo of RA-85816 is dated March 2002.

Aircraft Photo:
• https://aviation-safety.net/photo/1628/Tupolev-Tu-154M-RA-85816

Accident Details:
• https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2002_%C3%9Cberlingen_mid-air_collision

On July 1st 2002, a Tupolev 154M owned by Bashkirian Airlines took off from Moscow (Capital of Russia) to Barselona (city in Spain) at 18:48. The flight crew consisted of:
• Captain: Alexander Mikhailovich Gross
• First Officer: Murat Akhatovich Itkulov (Jumpseat)
• Flight Engineer: Oleg Irikovich Valeev
• Navigator: Sergei Gennadyevich Kharlov
• Flight Instructor: Oleg Pavlovich Grigoriev (First Officers seat)

There were 69 occupants on-board, 52 of whom were children flying on vacation to Spain as a reward to the winners of the Olympiads, which was organized by the Bashkirian Commission of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

A Boeing 757-200 owned by DHL cargo company took off from Bahrain (country in CentralAsia) to Bergamo airport (city in Italy) where it was refueled and additionally loaded, after which it went to its final point – Brussels (Capital of Belgium). There were only two pilots on the airplane. The airplane was flown by the first officer.

At 21:26 they contacted Zurrich ATC (Peter Nielsen), which allowed them to climb to flight level 360. At 21:34 TCAS on the Boeing 757 sounded “TRAFFIC, TRAFFIC. DESCEND, DESCEND.” Reacting to this, the captain disengaged the autopilot and started to descend. At 21:34 TCAS on the TU-154 sounded “CLIMB”. However, Peter Nielsen gave instructions to descend due to the danger of aircraft crossing.

When the TCAS system recommended to climb again the first officer reacted to this several times, but the captain said “He (ATC) tell to descend”. Earlier in the Tu-154 flight manual was said that following the TCAS system is recommended but not required. Peter Nielsen reported incorrect information about the location of a different plane (not DHL) saying that it will be to the right of them. The crew of the Tu 154 decided that there is another aircraft to the right side of them which is not visible by the TCAS system. The captain and navigator began looking for the planes lights through the right window.

At this time, DHL crew continued to descend according to the TCAS system and reported back to Nielsen, but he did not hear them as he was communicating with an approaching aircraft. As the TCAS system continued to play “DESCEND. INCREASE DESCEND.” the first officer told the captain: “descend, descend faster.”

At 23:35 continuing to descend towards each other, a few seconds before the collision, the crews saw each other. The 757 pilots pulled the yokes away trying to avoid a collision while the 154 pilots pulled the yokes up and increased the engine speed. Unfortunetly it was to late. At 39,890 ft the Boeing 757 passed below the Tu-154 and collided, the 757’s vertical stabiliser sliced through the Tu-154s fuselage (in front of the wings).

The Tupolev broke into several pieces, wreckage scattering over a wide area. 40 out of the 69 occupants were thrown from the plane at the time of the collision. The nose section of the aircraft fell vertically, while the tail section with the engines continued, stalled, and fell.

The crippled Boeing, now with 80% of its vertical stabiliser lost, struggled for a further 7 km, went into an uncontrolled stall and crashed close to a village. Each engine ended up several hundred metres away from the main wreckage, and the tail section was torn from the fuselage by trees just before impact. 

All 69 people on the Tupolev, and both crew members on board the Boeing, died. Only one ATC, (Peter Nielsen of ACC Zurich) was controlling the airspace through which the aircraft were flying. The other controller on duty was resting in another room for the night. This was against Skyguide’s regulations, but had been a common practice for years and was known and tolerated by management. Maintenance work was being carried out on the main radar image processing system, which meant that the controllers were forced to use a fallback system.

An aural short-term conflict alert warning system released a warning addressed to workstation RE SUED at 23:35:00 (32 seconds before the collision). This warning was not heard by anyone present at that time, although no error in this system could be found in a subsequent technical audit; however, whether or not this audible warning is functional is not something that is technically logged. Even if Nielsen had heard this warning, at that time finding a useful resolution order by the ATC was impossible.

On February 24, 2004 ATC Peter Nielsen was killed by Vitaliy Kaloev, who lost his wife and son in the crash. He stated that he had come to Nielsen’s house to get an apology, but Nilsen showed to Kaloev an indecent gesture, after which Kaloev stabbed him with a knife. Kaloev spent three years in prison.

English subtitles added!

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