DURING A TEST flight from Kiev on February 10, the prototype Antonov An-70 fourpropfan transport collided with its An-72 chase aircraft at about 1730hrs local time while flying at around 10,000ft (3,000m). It was totally destroyed when it plunged almost vertically into a forest near the town of Veliky, about 25 miles (40km) from Kiev.
All five crew and two test observers were killed on board the An-70. Despite severe damage and a fire, the An-72 was able to return to Gostomel Airport for a safe emergency landing. According to Russian sources, if is believed that the An-70 experienced control difficulties and asked the An-72, which was flying some 330ft (100m) away, to move closer for a visual inspection. It then appears that the An-70 suddenly and unexpectedly veered towards the An-72, the latter’s pilot having insufficient time to avert the collision. The An-70 passed under the An-72 — its fin hit the An-72’s fuselage and was destroyed, and one of its engines tore out part of the An-72″s wing. The An-70 went into an uncontrollable spin from which the crew were unable to recover.
Pilot error has already been ruled out as a possible cause for the crash and a full investigation is now under way. The loss of the sole prototype, which had only accumulated three flying hours, will undoubtedly have serious repercussions on the whole An-70 programme, which has already suffered from a lack of funding, amongst many other problems. The accident is estimated to have cost around $30-50 million and the whole programme is expected to be delayed by at least 18 to 24 months.
Construction of a second prototype began at the end of 1994 and deputy Ukrainian Premier Valeriy Shmarov said, after visiting the crash site, that development would continue; assuming no design defects can be attributed to the cause. On February 18, Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement confirming their continued co-operation to produce a second An-70, although it remains uncertain whether previous funding difficulties will be overcome.