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’96 Crash Blamed on Disorientation

November 30, 1999

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ A cockpit dispute over a Russian airliner’s position may have caused the worst air crash in Norwegian history, when the jet slammed into an arctic mountain in 1996 and killed 141 people, a commission said Tuesday.

The Russian Tupolev TU-154 airliner, belonging to Vnukovo Airlines, veered into a mountain 20 miles from the runway of the main airport on the arctic Svalbard archipelago on Aug. 29, 1996.

The plane was bringing Ukrainian and Russian coal miners and their families back to Russian settlements allowed on the Norwegian islands, 400 miles north of the mainland, under a 1920 treaty.

In its final report issued Tuesday, the Norwegian investigating committee said it found no evidence of technical failures aboard the aircraft or in the navigation systems at the remote airport.

Searchers found the aircraft’s flight recorder and cockpit voice recorder after the crash. Earlier autopsies showed the crew members were in good health and not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

According to the report, the aircraft’s pilots and its navigator were having an intense discussion in the seconds before the crash about whether to turn left or right. The navigator won, and seconds later the plane turned left and slammed into Opera Mountain.

``It is shocking that the landing approach was not broken off when there was disagreement about the course and where the plane was,″ investigating commission member Finn Heimdal was quoted as telling the Norwegian news agency NTB.

Commission leader Jon Pran said the problems apparently started because the navigator was overloaded with tasks. He said it was also clear that the pilots were uncertain of the position when they started their approach for landing.

The report said the aircraft’s instruments had indicated that it should turn right on the approach, which was correct. However, the navigator argued for the course shown by his satellite navigation system to the left.

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