A parachute hangs from a tree after Sunday's deadly plane crash in Jämijärvi. The deadly aviation accident in Jämijärvi, Satakunta, on Sunday may have been caused by a failure in the steering system of the aircraft, officials at the Safety Investigation Authority reveal. The officials have also yet to rule out pilot error in the crash, which claimed the lives of eight parachutists.

The light utility aircraft began experiencing problems with its vertical stabiliser after ascending to an altitude of nearly four kilometres. The nose of the aircraft then dived suddenly, sending the plane into an uncontrolled tailspin.

The sky-divers on board the aircraft tried to save themselves, but with the jump door closed it was only possible to dive out of the aircraft from the cockpit. In addition to the pilot, only two parachutists eventually managed to exit the plane before it crashed to the ground, the latter so late that their reserve chute was inflated immediately.

Officials on Monday interviewed eye-witnesses and reviewed footage of the accident captured by by-standers, which indicates that although one of the wings of the aircraft broke during the tailspin it did not come off. The officials consequently believe a fracture in the wing may have caused the accident.

The accident investigation will continue today with the officials set to receive the designs of the amateur-built Comp Air 8 aircraft.

Several serious aviation accidents have occurred in Finland over a relatively short period of time, with seven people losing their lives in accidents last year and six the year before that. The statistics are appalling, states Pekka Henttu, the director of the aviation unit at the Finnish Transport Safety Agency (Trafi).

The Jämijärvi crash will hopefully be a wake-up call for the aviation community, Henttu says.

“There is certainly an attitude problem in the field. Issues associated with attitudinal questions were detected when the Safety Investigation Authority, the Finnish Aeronautical Association and the Aircraft Owner and Pilot Association looked into the accidents that took place last year.”

Henna Virkkunen (NCP), the Minister of Transport and Local Government, has similarly expressed her concerns about aviation safety in the wake of the Jämijärvi crash, urging the Ministry of Transport to conduct an assessment of the risks associated with leisure aviation.

“It's vital in order to ensure that the activities can continue. It's a very important and beloved hobby for many,” she states in an interview with STT.

Aviation sports have attracted scores of new participants in recent years, with the number of registered ultra-light aircraft tripling from 500 to 1,500 over the past ten years and the number of sky-divers growing to the current 2,000—2,500 active enthusiasts.

Supervision, in contrast, has decreased. Unannounced inspections carried out by the Aeronautical Association were suspended two years ago following a decision by Trafi to withdraw their funding. The objective of the inspections was to ensure that parachuting instructions and equipment were up to date.

Marjo Valtavaara, Tuomo Väliaho – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva