Aeroflot Flight 593 Crashes with 15-year Old in Control

Aeroflot Flight 593, a "Russian Airlines" Airbus A310-304 passenger airliner, registration F-OGQS, operating on behalf of Aeroflot, crashed into a hillside in Siberia on 23 March 1994.

All 75 passengers and crew were killed.

Voice and flight data recorders revealed that the pilot's 15-year-old son Eldar Kudrinsky, while seated at the controls, had unknowingly disabled the A310's autopilot's control of the ailerons, which put the aircraft into a steep bank, and then an uncontrolled dive. The pilots were not aware of the complete disconnection of the autopilot, which occurred with no audible alarm, and did not regain control of the aircraft.

Incident

The jet was en route from Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO) to Hong Kong's former Hong Kong International Airport (Kai Tak Airport). Most of the passengers were businessmen from Hong Kong and Taiwan who were looking for economic opportunities in Russia.

The relief pilot, Yaroslav Kudrinsky (Russian: Ярослав Кудринский), was taking his two children on their first international flight and they were brought to the cockpit while he was on duty. Aeroflot allowed families of pilots to travel at a discounted rate once per year. With the autopilot active, Kudrinsky, against regulations, offered to let them sit at the controls. First his daughter Yana took the pilot's left front seat. Kudrinsky adjusted the autopilot's heading to give her the impression that she was turning the plane, though she actually had no control of the aircraft. Next, his son Eldar Kudrinsky (Russian: Эльдар Кудринский) took the pilot's seat. Unlike his sister, Eldar applied enough force to the control column to contradict the autopilot for 30 seconds.

What nobody knew was that by doing this, he completely disconnected the aileron's autopilot: the flight computer switched the plane's ailerons to manual control while maintaining control over the other flight systems. The plane did not audibly signal a warning that this had occurred, although an indicator light did come on. It apparently went unnoticed by the pilots, who had previously flown planes with an audible warning signal. The first to notice a problem was Eldar, who observed that the plane was banking right. Shortly after, the flight path indicator changed to show they were in a holding pattern. This confused the pilots for nine seconds.

Soon the plane banked past a 45-degree angle (steeper than it was designed for). This increased the g-force on the pilots and crew, making their bodies feel much heavier than usual, and making it impossible for the Captain to replace his son at the controls. After banking as much as 90 degrees, the remaining functions of the autopilot tried to correct the plane's altitude by putting the plane in an almost vertical ascent, nearly stalling the plane. The co-pilot and Eldar managed to get the plane into a nosedive, which reduced the G-force on the pilots and enabled the Captain to take the controls. Though he and his co-pilot did regain control, their altitude by then was too low to recover, and the plane crashed.

Families of western victims placed flowers on the crash site, while families of ethnic Chinese victims scattered pieces of paper with messages written on them around the crash site.

What could have caused Aeroflot Flight 593 to drop headlong out of the sky on March 22? For nearly a fortnight, international aviation officials asked themselves that question. Was it a technical failure? A terrorist bomb? A stray bird? All they knew was that the Hong Kong-bound Airbus A-310 disappeared from radar and exploded deep in the Siberian taiga . . . until last week, when the plane's flight recorder finally yielded a haunting clue: the voice of a child.