The Russian passenger jet that crashed in Indonesia last month may have been downed by the pilot's attempts at aerobatics in mountainous terrain, according to reports.
A Russian Sukhoi Superjet airliner that crashed in Indonesia last month might have gone down because of a dangerous maneuver performed by the pilot, a Moscow newspaper reported on Thursday, citing a source close to the investigation.
The plane was on a short demonstration flight for potential buyers when it slammed into Mount Salak near Jakarta on May 9. All 45 people on board - mostly Indonesian airline representatives - were killed.
Data from the flight recorder suggested the plane's navigator had alerted pilot Alexander Yablonstev to an approaching mountainside, but he carried on regardless, the source told the Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid.
Yablontsev also appeared to ignore the jet's Terrain Warning and Awareness System, the source said.
Indonesian and Russian officials said last month the aircraft experienced no technical problems up until impact, but insisted it was still premature to say if pilot error caused the crash.
Information leaked to a Russian newspaper claims that recordings from the jet's "black box" flight recorder shows that both the automatic avoidance system and another member of the crew tried to dissuade the pilot from a risky manoeuvre minutes before the jet collided with the side of a volcano in Indonesia, killing all 45 people on board.
But the paper said that was not a direct quotation and said that the crew members exact words remain unknown.
The source who provided the information demanded anonymity because it is forbidden to leak details of ongoing air-crash investigations.
A verdict of pilot error would be the most convenient outcome for both makers Sukhoi and the Russian government because it would dispel concerns about the aircraft's safety.
Aviation experts have warned that if the investigation finds that technical failure caused the May 9 crash near Jakarta, the Superjet could be commercially doomed.
Mr Yablontsev, 57, was a highly qualified test-pilot with over 10,000 flying hours under his belt and had intimate knowledge of the Superjet, having flown it since its maiden flight in 2008.
But investigators have been puzzled over why he requested permission to descend from 3000 to 1,800 meters minutes before the crash – an extremely dangerous manoeuvre in such a mountainous area.
Experts who reconstructed the flight told the paper the aircraft had narrowly missed the mountain twice already before it crashed.
The Sukhoi Superjet is the first new aircraft to be built in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is designed to reboot Russia's decayed aviation industry by cornering the market for relatively small, medium-range jets.
Only a handful of Superjets are currently in service, with Armenia's Armavia and Russia's flag carrier Aeroflot.
It emerged in March that Aeroflot has been billing Sukhoi for losses incurred by downtime caused by technical problems with the aircraft.
And in May the Russian airline had to fire an air hostess who gleefully tweeted about the tragedy.
"Huh? Did a SuperJet crash? Hahaha! This aircraft sucks, it's a pity it wasn't one of Aeroflot's, that would be one less," Ekaterina Solovyeva wrote shortly after the crash.
Last month another tabloid reported that the Superjet may have crashed after the US Airforce fired a "special beam" at the aircraft to send its instruments haywire.