FlyDubai Flight 981: Aircraft Nose-Dive Leaves Zero Survivors


On the 18th of March 2016 FlyDubai Flight 981 departed Dubai for a flight to Rostov-On-Don aerodrome, located in Russia. The flight crew anticipated that bad weather was forecast at their destination with winds gusting to 40MPH. The flight was just over 4 hours long but knowing the weather conditions were less than ideal at their destination the flight crew decided to add over 8 hours worth of fuel in the aircraft. A preliminary caution just in case landing in Rostov couldn't be achievable.


A SIGMET advisory was in place over the Russian region. A SIGMET denotes significant meteorological conditions that exist for a certain period of time. SIGMETS are hazardous to all aircraft. As the aircraft descended from FL360 (36,000ft) to the published altitude for landing, windshear conditions were present.


Windshear is a very dangerous weather phenomenon that has been responsible for numerous accidents in the past. It is defined as a sudden change in wind speed or wind direction over a short distance. The aircraft is most vulnerable to windshear when it is at low airspeed and low altitude, i.e landing. Fortunately, with the addition of Doppler Radar the detection of windshear has significantly improved. The basic premise of this system is that it sends a beam of energy (radio-wave) that strikes objects in the atmosphere, the greater the object it strikes, the greater the beam of energy reflected. This can then be interpreted accordingly in the flight deck.


The Boeing 737-800 had only 55 passengers on board which is one third its normal capacity. A light aircraft configured for landing in the presence of windshear is a cause for concern. Furthermore, low level thick clouds surrounded Rostov-On-Don Aerodrome making the approach extra challenging. As the aircraft approached to land, the on-board system notified the pilots of windshear ahead; taking no chances the PIC decided that it would go around and try again. The flight is then placed in a holding pattern for almost 2 hours as it desperately waits for weather conditions to improve.


Meanwhile, Aeroflot 1166 also landing at Rostov-On-Don Aerodrome had attempted to land twice but due to the weather conditions it was compelled to initiate three go-arounds. Shortly thereafter, the aircraft decided to land at an alternative airport. ATC relayed this information to the FlyDubai flight. After lengthy conversations on how the aircraft should proceed, the flight crew determined that they should attempt the ILS runway 22 approach at Rostov-On-Don.


As the aircraft descended it became apparent to the flight crew that they would be unable to land. Another go-around was attempted. However, after the aircraft reached an altitude of approximately 3,350ft, it transitioned to a steep descent. Moments later the aircraft plummeted to the ground killing all those on board. The initial reports after the flight indicated that a possible engine failure could have resulted in the nose dive whilst the pilot was ‘going-around.’ However, after the final report was released this theory was far from the truth.


Soejatman, G. (2016) ‘ADS-B Analysis of FlyDubai 981: A Case of Somatogravic Illusion?’, Gerry Airways, p. 1. Available at: http://www.gerryairways.com/index.php/en/safety/ads-b-analysis-of-flydubai-981-a-case-of-somatogravic-illusion/.Accident,


A. I. R. and Commission, I. (2016) ‘This document is an English translation of the Final Report on the accident involving the Boeing 737-8KN aircraft registered A6-FDN that occurred on March 19 , 2016 ( 00 : 42 UTC ) at Rostov-on-Don aerodrome Date and time’, 2016. Available at: https://www.flightradar24.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/report_a6-fdn_eng.pdf.


Martin, S. (2019) ‘This Illusion Can Easily Lead To A Crash’, BoldMethod, p. 1. Available at: https://www.boldmethod.com/learn-to-fly/aeromedical-factors/the-somatogravic-illusion-causes-accidents-how-to-prevent-it/.


Wise, J. (2016) ‘An Illusion Made FlyDubai Pilots Crash Their Plane Into the Ground’, Popular Mechanics, p. 1. Available at: https://www.popularmechanics.com/flight/a20530/flydubai-pilots-crash-illusion/.


Marrow, A. (2019) ‘Report cites pilot error in 2016 Flydubai plane crash in Russia’, Reuters, p. 1. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-crash-flydubai/report-cites-pilot-error-in-2016-flydubai-plane-crash-in-russia-idUSKBN1Y01QD.



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