40 Days, No Answers: Flight 967 relatives left in doubt, but with troublesome speculations

June 12 marked the 40th day – significant in Christian Armenian tradition – since 113 victims died in the Black Sea crash of Armavia Flight 967.

While family members have mourned, rumors and speculation have mounted in a vacuum of valid information as little is offered from officials in Yerevan or Sochi.

Immediately after the crash an unaddressed but widely embraced speculation circulated that human error was to blame for the deaths. Specifically, as it is popularly known, the first few days of May are traditionally days of heavy drinking in Russia. Many now believe that control tower personnel were incapacitated by vodka and were incapable of performing their duties. Such rumor was fueled especially after Sochi authorities were said to have secluded the air traffic controller on duty the night of May 3.

Another version of the cause of the disaster is that a brawl broke out by powerful persons on board who demanded that the pilot land the plane, regardless of safety concerns.

Such talk can never be proved or put to rest, unless information from the plane’s “black box” is useful. And in that regard, the Russians have been less than forthcoming.

Before the recording devices were found, the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force of Russia Vladimir Mikhailov stated that the crash of the Armenian airbus A-320 took place through the pilots’ negligence, who did not allow for weather conditions: “It is quite clear that the pilots did not allow for the weather conditions, because the whole reason is in weather,” Mikhailov said. On May 16, on the day of the start of the operation to recover the first black box, he emphasized that the expenses on the finding and recovery of the “black boxes” of the crashed plane were not justified. “Even if we get them to the surface, we’ll make sure that the cause still was weather,” he said.

This statement even more entangled the situation, as it was issued long before familiarization with the records of the black box, and in the opinion of many Armenian mass media determined the course of the Russian position on this matter – to hide in every way the cause of the tragedy.

And in that matter, Russia has reasons, specifically this: On June 14 the International Olympic Committee in Geneva was to begin debate on where to hold the 2014 Winter Olympics. Sochi is among cities in the running for that lucrative event. Surely, learning that its main airport was subject to human error would not fare well for Russia’s Olympic bid.

On May 27, the plane’s recording instruments were taken to France for a technical inspection, where it was expected the data would be retrieved. Later, however, press secretary of the Head Department of Civil Aviation (HDCA) of Armenia Gayane Davtyan said that the immediate procedure of the decoding (opening) would take place in Moscow.

On June 8, the International Aviation Committee (IAC) looking into the plane crash reported that works on decoding the negotiations registered by the sound recorders had been completed in Moscow. It was established that the recorder registered about 33 minutes of audio information, including the stage of the start and development of the special situation. Most of the negotiations between members of the crew were in Armenian. With the aid of representatives of the Embassy of Armenia an authentic translation of negotiations into Russian was done and certified. It was also stated that the 33-minute record would not be made public.

On June 9, the Ministry of Transport sent to the Federal Agency on Air Transport a communication describing the possible causes of the crash. The telegram was called a Dispatch “For Official Use”. The Ministry of Transport compiled it on the basis of the finally decoded negotiations of controllers with the crew of the plane. At the same time, official results of the decoding are not published yet. Nevertheless, a report appeared in the press that the technical side was not to blame, and the whole blame is put on the “human factor”. But who specifically – whether it was the pilot or the air controller, is not reported.

The 40 days since the tragedy was marked in Sochi on June 14. The date of the 40 days was June 12, but as it was the national holiday in Russia, the Day of Russia, it was decided to move the mourning events for two days.

On the night of June 13, 20 relatives of the dead pilots and flight attendants left to Sochi on board an Armavia plane to participate in the mourning ceremony.

Seventy relatives of passengers headed for the crash scene by coach. Despite the fact that Armavia planes already operate regular flights, the relatives prefer going by coach . . .

On June 14, Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan stated that the Armenian authorities had been notified of the causes of the air crash, but were not entitled to publish that information yet.