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Death crash aircraft pilot 'had no formal training', teacher's inquest told

Published 27/09/2016

Teacher Donna Bull was among 50 people who died when the Tatarstan Airlines plane crashed in 2013
Teacher Donna Bull was among 50 people who died when the Tatarstan Airlines plane crashed in 2013

A pilot who crashed a passenger plane almost vertically into a runway at 280mph (450kph) killing all 50 on board had no record of completing any training, an inquest has heard.

Donna Bull, 53, was travelling from Moscow for a marketing trip on board the Tatarstan Airlines jet when it crash landed at Kazan Airport in November 2013.

Coroner David Morris concluded that Ms Bull, who taught at Bellerbys College in Cambridge, was unlawfully killed, and said the pilot had "missed out on the basics".

The inquest at Peterborough Register Office heard the Boeing 727 aircraft had aborted one landing attempt and the crew had initiated a go-around procedure to line up for another run.

The plane climbed to 700 metres (2,300ft) and as the captain moved the nose down it began a 20-second plunge where the 23-year-old craft dived into the ground at a 75 degree angle.

Mr Morris said: "Frankly, he shouldn't have been flying the plane. It's as simple as that."

Suggesting the death would be "gross negligence manslaughter" if the inquest was being heard by a jury, he added: "The circumstances here are so gross. He should never have been in the plane and you cannot get more gross than that.

"The pilot did not have a genuine licence, he was not properly trained, he had no experience in the particular manoeuvre.

"That, together with numerous systemic failures, led to her death."

The court heard the plane was airworthy and that conditions at Kazan airport, in south-west Russia, were described as "benign" at the time of the crash by Air Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) investigator Paul Hannant.

He told the court the co-pilot had failed an English language test three times - but passed with 100% on the fourth attempt - and had passed training to become a pilot.

Speaking about the pilot, he said: "The captain was a navigator with the airline and he then got a pilot's licence. There was no record of him having done any pilot training."

The court heard one potential explanation for the crash which killed 44 passengers and six crew was the somatogravic illusion - where acceleration is confused for lift where there are no visual references for a pilot - with this phenomenon covered in basic training.

Afandi Darlington, from the AAIB, said: "It's possible the pilot may have sensed the aircraft was pitching nose up and this may explain why he has pulled a rather extreme control movement forward."

Speaking after the inquest, Ms Bull's son George, daughter Kate and stepmother Jenny described her as a "wonderful, caring and devoted mother and daughter".

It added: "She was the sunshine to all who knew her and there isn't a day that goes by that she is not missed. We miss her smile and arms around us.

"To lose a loved one as part of an accident is a tragedy, but to lose them in an incident that was wholly avoidable is so much more painful to bear.

"How could the authorities let inadequately trained engineers pilot a plane carrying passengers? Our lives and those of many others have been shattered by this flagrant disregard for safety."

The family's lawyer, Kieran Mitchell, from Slater and Gordon, said: "It is quite extraordinary that an airline could have such a disgraceful disregard for human life.

"It beggars belief how the local regulatory authorities in the Republic of Tatarstan, or indeed those of the Russian Federation, permitted commercial flight activities to be undertaken in such circumstances.

"It was surely only a matter of time before a tragedy, such as this befell them, leading to the loss of a much-loved mother."

The court heard that Tatarstan Airlines had its certificate revoked following the incident and that criminal proceedings were under way in Russia.

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