New Air Accident in Africa; Armenian Pilots and a Former Armenian Plane Involved

21:51, 4 November, 2015

A Soviet-built Antonov 12-B turbo prop plane, carrying a Tajikistan registration EY-406, crashed soon after taking off from the airport in South Sudan’s capital Juba on November 4.

The plane was headed towards the town of Paloich in the north. A local radio station posted a Twitter message claiming that the plane went down some 800 meters from the airport. A Reuter’s eyewitness reported that the plane crashed into a populated island in the White Nile. According to the BBC, eyewitnesses said that the plane was returning to the airport for an emergency landing.

A spokesperson for the South Sudanese president told Reuters that the plane was carrying 12 passengers and a crew of six. The spokesperson said that 15 had died in the crash and that 3, all South Sudanese citizens, survived. One of the survivors was a child.

The Miraya radio station, owned by the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, reported that around 40 bodies were found in the wreckage, and that the Reuters source had counted 41. It was noted that debris had fallen all along the river. Later, Eye Juba radio reported that the local Red Cross had uncovered 37 bodies and that three were still to be pulled from underneath the wreckage.

According to the presidential spokesperson, five of the six-man crew were Armenians and one was a Russian. All the passengers were South Sudanese. Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Emergency Situations confirmed the news about the five Armenian crew members killed. The foreign ministry noted that the five, according to Armenia’s Embassy in Egypt, were citizens of Armenia and identified as Gevorg Tovmasyan (captain), Samvel Hambardzoumyan (2nd pilot), Samvel Mkrtchyan (flight engineer), and Armen Antonyan and Souren Petrosyan (both flight technicians).

According to the Russian website LifeNews, the most likely cause of the accident was that the plane was overloaded. The maximum carry weight for an Antonov-12B is 21 tons. However, a source in the Russian aviation department told the Russian website that planes frequently take off carrying 30-35 tons in many third world countries. A news brief in The Aviation Herald reported that South Sudanese authorities reported that the plane could not gain sufficient height due to the overload and fly into a hill. We also know that the plane was quite old; 44 years to be precise. The Ukrainian manufacturer Antonov announced that the aircraft lacked an operational permit since it hadn’t undergone technical inspection within the mandated timeframe.

The Antonov 12-BK plane, with a production number of 01347704, was built in 1971 by at an aviation plant in Tashkent. It first flew on February 26, 1971 and became fully operation in April that year. It was initially operated by the Magadan branch of Soviet Aeroflot (registration number CCCP-11102).  For a time it was leased by the United Nations. In 1993, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the aircraft was obtained by the Russian firm Magadan Avia Leasing (RA-11102). In the early 2000s, the AN-12 was operated by British Gulf International Airlines, registered in the African island country of São Tomé and Príncipe, whose fleet is based in Sharja. The plane was first operated under the São Tomé national mark S9-BOS.The aircraft was later registered in the Kirghizstan registry as EX-163.British Gulf had opened a branch in this Central Asian country. claims that the aircraft had Armenian registration since 2007 and that, under the number EK-11102, it was operated by South Airlines, an Armenian company owned by Vahram Simonyan, a man known to many in Africa.

EK-11102 in Dubai (15.11.2007)

The Antonov-12 was flown, since 2008, under the colors of Taron-Avia and had the Armenian EK-12704 number. In 2014, the aircraft passed to Asia Airways (EY-406) and, according to aviation sources, was operated by it. Rouben Grdzelyan, spokesperson of Armenia’s Department of Civil Aviation, reported that last year the Antonov-12 was removed from Armenia’s airplane registry.

EK-12704 in Kabul (27.06.2010)

The aircraft carried the brand name of South Sudanese Allied Services Limited. This company deals in cargo transport, customs clearance and equipment leasing. South Sudan has its national mark Z8. However, because Allied Services Limited aircraft have the Tajikistan EY mark, this allows us to assume that the planes are merely leased from Asia Airways. 

Many air cargo companies, registered in Armenia, have conducted business in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa since Armenia gained its independence.

One of the latest photos of EY-406 (October, 2015)

Hetq has covered the recent spate of serious Armenian aviation incidents. We didn’t write about the tragedy that occurred on November 17, 2003 when 13 people died (including a crew of four Armenians and two Uzbeks) in a crash of an Antonov-12b with Sudanese registration. Thus, from 2003 to date, twelve tragic incidents have occurred involving Armenian pilots and planes with Armenian registration.

A tragedy similar to the one that occurred on November 4, took place on November 30, 2012, when an Il-76S airplane (EK-76300) went down near the Congo capital of Brazzaville, crashing into a residential area below.

While it was flown by a local operator, it belonged to Ridge Airways, owned by General-Lieutenant Stepan Galstyan, Deputy Chief of Armenia’s Armed Forces Staff. Five Armenian crew members were killed along with two local policeman passengers. According to the local Red Cross, 32 people were killed and some 20 injured on the ground when the plane crashed.