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Friday, May 25, 2012

SSJ 100 Accident: Mythbusting the US Sabotage Theory

I didn't expect this to be bigtime news, but I guess since the rapid pace of development surrounding the Sukhoi Superjet 100 crash has slowed down, old rumors begin to surface. This time, the allegation of SABOTAGE.

Today, I read a tweet from Olga Kayukova (@Olga_Kayukova (Russian) / @Olga_Kayukova_e (English), Head of Communications, United Aircraft Corporation.

I'm amazed at how Olga can keep her cool over the past few weeks, with the amount of crazy speculation that has been raised.
  • "In our comments we rely only on the official investigation process. The media invents totally insane stories, another media repeats."
  • "Nobody in Sukhoi nor in UAC spreads or supports crazy ideas. It's speculations."

How did this sabotage rumor start?
It was reported by many witnesses, that on the day of the crash, a USAF C-17 arrived at Halim Airport, and parked on the South Apron (where the Russian Il-76s were parked during the salvage efforts). After the aircraft disappeared from ATC radar, the C-17 left departed.

USAF C-17 parked at Halim's Southern Apron
Photo also available at Jetphotos.
It certainly sounds fishy, and several journalists also asked me whilst interviewing about the circumstances around the accident. Since no one speculated further on the sabotage, I decided not to write about it, that is until I saw Olga's link to the Daily Mail article today.

"'We know that they have special technology - that we also have - to jam signals from the ground or cause parameter readings to malfunction,' said the unnamed intelligence official, highlighting a US military presence at Jakarta Airport from where the plane took off on May 9."

The facts as I know it - USAF Diplomatic Mission Support Operations
The US Air Force provides diplomatic mission support flights. 1 (a C-12 / King Air executive turboprop aircraft) is based in Halim in case Jakarta ends up in a riot that key diplomatic staff have to be evacuated. This aircraft runs around Halim airport regularly, but this was not what was reported during the day.

USAF C-12 stationed at Halim for Diplomatic Support Missions
Photo also available at Jetphotos.
The US Air Force aircraft present in Halim that day was reported as a C-17. How coincidental, SSJ-100 in Jakarta, at the same time the C-17 turned up. But, it's nothing more than a coincident. The USAF C-17 regularly fly to Halim Airport (once or twice a month, but no less than once every 3 months, depending on the agreement between the Indonesian and US Governments), also to support the US diplomatic mission in Jakarta. The aircraft would land, and park at the southern apron, offload stuff, and then onload some stuff, refuels, and depart again. Often, they spend about 1 - 2 hours before departure seemingly doing nothing.

What does these "support flights" do?
Simple: Emergency supplies for the embassy. The US Embassy, has emergency ration supplies in case of war or civil obedience. The amount of foods and supplies they keep, is not for me to know or disclose, but those supplies have to be rotated regularly, and the rotation require a closed-loop secure supply chain. That is why they had to use the USAF to support this supply rotation. 

Furthermore, the US does not want a repeat of the "Embassy Scandal" that happened in Iran, where shredded and destroyed documents were painstakingly reconstructed by the Iranians and then published as "Documents from the US Espionage Den" (اسناد لانه جاسوس امریكا), which contained information that are still classified by the US even today. One of the tasks was to evacuate shredded documents for secured destruction. I am told that when the aircraft has completed off loading supplies, re-loaded it, and then refuelled, one of the reasons for waiting around for an extra hour or two, was to wait for the last batches of "shredded documents" to be airlifted. And no, these documents are not carried in trucks, it can be as simple as someone with a small back pack, inconspicuously entering the aircraft, and leaving the aircraft without it.

I've seen several of these flights come in and out of Halim, especially back in the days when I flew in and out of Halim to the south coast.

They're just standard C-17s. No non-standard fancy gizmos put on them. The US is more scared of losing its secret technology in a plane crash caused by poor fuel quality being provided by civil suppliers (eg: Pertamina at Halim Airport). Observers of the military signals, intelligence, and counter-intelligence equipment in aviation know that to bring down an airplane such as the Superjet-100 in "mysterious circumstances", require lots of fancy gizmos, and at sizes that would make it obvious the aircraft carrying the gizmos are not a standard one!

My opinion remains, this USAF C-17 aircraft present at Halim that day, was a non-issue in this accident. Even a staunchly anti-American journalist interviewing me could accept that. I told him it would be far easier for anyone to bring the airplane down through other means (hey, ex-Soviet MANPADS are reported to be widely available in the blackmarket!) and getaway with it.


  1. Would it be a coincidence also that the FDR could not be found?

  2. The FDR is either not found, or *speculation warning* was never there because this is also a test aircraft, and flight tests instrument telemetry systems record more variables than FDR. We've seen photos of parts of the telemetry system (found the day before CVR).