The copilot of the Tu-134 plane that crashed 10 days ago in northern Russia killing 47 people had the legal right to land the plane in the captain's absence, a deputy transportation minister said on Thursday.
Valery Okulov was commenting on media reports that the captain was not in the cockpit when the plane made its fateful attempt to land in Petrozavodsk, the capital of Russia's Karelia republic.
Okulov said Russian flight regulations allow the captain to land the plane himself or to pass the responsibility to the copilot.
Alexander Neradko, the head of the Russian Air Transportation Agency, in turn warned against any "emotionally charged statements," adding that the Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK) was in the process of analyzing the contents of the cockpit voice recorders.
"I know that the cockpit voice recorders have been decoded and transcribed, so the committee will soon provide unbiased information," he said, adding that no other authority was permitted to release the information until then.
MAK experts have ruled out technical failure as a possible cause of the crash. Pilot error has been identified as the most likely cause of the tragedy.
President Dmitry Medvedev instructed the government to look into the possibility of early retirement of all Tu-134s. The aircraft entered service in the 1960s and the most recent was built in 1984.