Six minutes later the Antonov nosedived and exploded on the ground after departing from Moscow’s Domodedovo airport to Orsk on Sunday.
By this morning, some 1,489 fragments of bodies and 498 aircraft wreckage pieces were found in macabre searches by investigators, said an official from the Russian Emergencies Ministry.
Experts remain uncertain about the cause of the crash but have played down a terrorist attack.
Now it is revealed that the flight deck crew, Captain Valery Gubanov, 51, and co-pilot Sergey Gambaryan, 44, reported “we have problems” before taxiing onto the runway.
It is clear from a leak purporting to show exchanges with air traffic control that the crew called the Saratov Airlines technical team over an unspecified issue at the last minute.
The pilots on the doomed An-148 plane reported technical problems moments before takeoff
Literally in a minute we’ll tell you, whether we taxi to the stand, or we taxi out
The glitch was serious enough for the captain to contemplate refusing his takeoff slot, although in the end he did not do so.
One of the pilots warned as he was being given takeoff instructions from the control tower: “In a couple of minutes. We contact the technical team, we have problems.
“Literally in a minute we’ll tell you, whether we taxi to the stand, or we taxi out.”
The wording implies the plane had already pushed back from the stand when this exchange took place.
Air traffic control did not appear to acknowledge their warning, and later exchanges – all in Russian – show the pilots proceeding to takeoff as if they had resolved their concerns.
1,489 fragments of bodies and 498 aircraft wreckage pieces have been found by investigators
The final words from the flight deck were: “Thank you, bye.”
The exchanges appear at odds with earlier assurances from the airline that there was nothing amiss in the plane’s preparations for takeoff.
The Investigative Committee, in charge of the a criminal probe into the crash, also denied that the pilots had reported problems to the control tower.
Independent technical expert Yuri Antipov was quoted by Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper: “This is the pilot who is talking about technical problems.
“The same person then reports that they will decide whether to taxi or not.
People held candles to commemorate the victims in front of Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow
“So, there were technical problems in the plane right before take-off.”
He added: “It was before taxiing onto the runway, when the crew checks – according to the established regulations – the operability of all systems.
“By the way, it is known that one of the passengers sent a text message to a relative: ‘We are standing for a long time, we do not take off’.
“This also indicates that problems were found on the ground.
“But after some time the pilots thought that they had solved this problem, that’s why they went to takeoff.”
The key exchanges:
Crew: … To the right 1200, pressure 998 …
Control Tower: 703, the Domodedovo-circle. Good afternoon. Take the flight level 60 ….
Crew: …. We choose the flight level 60, the parameter of systems 03.
In a few seconds ….
Crew: In a couple of minutes. We contact the technical team, we have problems. Literally in a minute we’ll tell you, whether we taxi to the stand, or we taxi out.
Control Tower: 551, Domodedovo-circle, hello. Left positions are given, the course ‘Delta Kilo for the interval, initially take 800 metres, ahead in passing and above.
Crew: To the left on Delta-Kilo we take 800 metres.
Control Tower: To the right on Delta-Kilo, take 800. Did you understand correctly … 551?’
Crew: With the right turn to the Delta-Kilo, take 800 metres. We are taking the flight level 130, 134, …. Thank you, bye.