Flight recorders significantly damaged in Russian plane crash

Investigators are now focusing on studying the plane's fragments to determine what went wrong.

A handout picture released by Russia's Emergencies Ministry shows Russian rescuers working at the crash site of a passenger plane in Rostov-on-Don on 19 March 2016. Picture: STR/Russian Emergencies Ministry/AFP.

DUBAI - The flight recorders from Saturday's plane crash in southern Russia are significantly damaged, according to investigators.

The FlyDubai plane was en route from Dubai to Rostov when it aborted an initial scheduled landing and circled for more than two hours in poor weather conditions.

It crashed while attempting to land.

A spokesperson for Russia's Investigative Committee said it could take months before any useable data is gleaned from the flight recorders.

According to the independent US-based Flight Safety Foundation, there was strong wind at the airport with a speed of 43 kilometres per hour, with gusts up to 69 kilometres, but visibility was reasonable.

"Different versions of what happened are being looked into, including crew error, a technical failure and bad weather conditions," the committee said.

All 62 people on board were killed and a man working at the Russian airport who witnessed the crash died after a heart attack.

Russia's Interfax news agency cited a source in the emergency services as saying the pilot changed his mind about landing on the approach to the airport.

"For an unknown reason, several minutes before the landing, the pilot reconsidered and decided to make another circuit, but wasn't able to," _Interfax _quoted the source as saying.

FlyDubai's CEO Ghaith al-Ghaith told a news conference in the Gulf Arab emirate that it was "too early" to determine the cause of the crash.

"We will have information about the circumstances of the incident and the black box in the future, and an investigation is being conducted in cooperation with the Russian authorities and we are waiting to see the results," Ghaith said.

In the last recording between the pilots and air traffic controllers, you can hear the pilots asking about the weather several times as they circled the runway for two hours.

The last words of the captain are spoken in Russian, he asked, "Why is the airport closed?" Then the recording ends.

The weather bureau reports there were very strong winds at the time and as the plane tried to

The airline insists the plane had enough fuel to circle for the two hours it did and that both pilots had landed at this airport before.

RUSSIA MOURNS DEATHS

Yesterday was a day of mourning in Russia.

Flags were being flown at half-mast across the Rostov region where the plane came down.

Meanwhile, the search operation at the crash site has ended, bodies have been collected and sent for analysis.

Investigators say they're now focusing on studying the plane's fragments to determine what went wrong.

Specialists from Russia, the United Arab Emirates and France are also inspecting the damaged flight recorders, opening and extracting the memory modules and downloading the data.

In Dubai, where the plane took off, the Russian community is struggling to come to terms with what happened.

Most of the passengers were Russian and the community is close knit.

The Russian embassy has been fast tracking visas for traumatised family members to fly to the crash site as soon as possible.

ALERT

Security officials in the Middle East are on heightened alert for militant threats to aviation following the Islamic State claim of responsibility for downing a Russian passenger plane over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in late October, in which all 224 people on board died.

Sergei Melnichenko, head of Aviation Safety consultancy in Moscow, said so far little pointed to an act of terrorism.

"Nothing points to that," Melnichenko said. "But nothing can be fully ruled out until a complete decryption of the flight recorders is done."

According to the flight tracker Flightradar24, an Aeroflot flight SU1166 from Moscow made three landing attempts in Rostov before being diverted. It landed at 2315 GMT in Russia's Krasnodar.

Dubai's civil aviation authority said it was sending an investigative team to Russia, President Ismail al-Hosani told reporters.

Under international aviation rules, the investigation will be led by Russia's air crash safety investigation agency with representatives from the United States, where the jet was made and the United Arab Emirates where the airline is based.

Boeing will be appointed as technical advisers to the US investigation team.

Additional reporting by Reuters.