KAZAN, Russia - The pilot of an airliner that crashed near the Russian city of Kazan, killing 50 people, had pushed the steering column to pitch it into a nosedive, crash investigators said on Tuesday, citing data recorder analysis.
The Interstate Aviation Committee, which oversees civil aviation in the former Soviet Union, offered no explanation why the pilot of the Boeing 737 jet might have performed the manoeuvre, at a height of 700m, after aborting a first attempt to land.
Mr Aksan Giniyatullin, the chief executive of Tatarstan Airlines, which operated the jet, told a news conference: "The lead pilot had never made a second landing attempt under real flight conditions."
Video of the crash showed the aircraft, approaching Kazan in the region of Tatarstan on a flight from Moscow, plummeting headlong into the tarmac and exploding.
"After a speed decrease from 150 to 125 knots, the crew started manoeuvring activities with the steering column to put the plane into a nose-down pitch, which resulted in the end of altitude gain and the start of descent," the committee said in a statement.
Both engines were running and no malfunctions were detected by the flight data recorder. The tape from the voice recorder could not be recovered at the crash site, the committee said.
Sunday's crash raised new concerns about Russia's poor safety record as it prepares to host the Winter Olympics in the southern city of Sochi in February, an event on which President Vladimir Putin has staked much personal political prestige.