Superjet 100 Disaster in Indonesia Russia's Prestige Project Crashes into Volcano

In a nightmare for Russia's aviation industry, the country's new Superjet 100 has crashed into a mountainside during a demonstration flight in Indonesia. The disaster could jeopardize the ambitious Superjet project, which Moscow had hoped would be an aviation success story.

AFP/ Indonesian Air Force

A Russian demonstration flight of a new Superjet 100 ended in tragedy Wednesday, when the plane crashed into the side of a dormant volcano in Indonesia, presumably killing the approximately 50 people on board.

The flight was meant to showcase the Sukhoi Superjet 100, a regional jet and the new star of the aviation industry in Russia, where news of the crash was met with disbelief.

The plane disappeared from radar some 20 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta on Wednesday. The area of the crash is known for its haze, and the crew had requested permission to lower their altitude to 6,000 feet (1,800 meters). The cause of the crash, though, remains unclear. In addition to the Russian crew, the passengers included airline representatives and a handful of journalists.

Rescue workers in helicopters spotted the wreckage on the rocky ridge atop Mount Salak on Thursday morning, and rescuers have since recovered the first bodies of the passengers.

"We haven't found survivors," search and rescue team spokesman Gagah Prakoso told Indonesia's Metro TV.

About 1,000 rescue workers are taking part in the recovery operation at the remote and rugged crash site on the 7,254-foot (2,200-meter) mountain, which is some 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Jakarta.

Disbelief in Russia

Russia has been stunned by news of the accident. Thursday's headline of the Tvoi Den, a tabloid sympathetic to the Kremlin, reads: "Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 Disappears Under Mysterious Circumstances."

The crash occurred on Russia's Victory Day, a holiday that marks the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union. Some 14,000 soldiers marched past the Kremlin Wednesday in a traditional military parade that also featured modern rocket systems rolling across Red Square, demonstrating the country's military and technological might.

The disaster is a serious blow to the most prestigious industrial project of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who returned to the Kremlin with a triumphant ceremony on Monday. It could also jeopardize the ambitious Superjet project, which Moscow had hoped would be an aviation success story. While the Soviet Union once developed Illyushin, Tupolev and Antonov aircraft, the Superjet 100 was Russia's first new passenger plane since the collapse of the USSR.

Vanguard of Russia's Modernization

Russia, which depends largely on exports of its natural resources, hopes that the aviation industry will be at the forefront of modernization in the country. The government plans to invest some €42.5 billion ($55 billion) in aviation development by 2025, turning Russian plane builders into the "third power center of the global aviation industry," alongside Airbus and Boeing, and capturing 10 percent of the world market.

The flagship project for these expansion plans was supposed to be the Superjet 100, which is already serving domestic routes in Russia. The country hopes to sell up to 1,000 models, some 70 percent of them abroad, which was one reason for the demonstration flight in Indonesia. An earlier flight in Indonesia landed successfully.

Further demonstration flights had been scheduled in Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Laos and Vietnam.

kla, with wire reports

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