Russian and Indonesian authorities confirmed the loss of contact with the crew of the airplane, the Superjet 100 manufactured by Sukhoi, Russia’s major aircraft company, during a flight that departed from Halim airport in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, and was to return to the same location 50 minutes later.The Russia Today news Web site said that 50 people were aboard the plane, including eight Russians and 36 citizens from other countries, mostly airline representatives interested in buying it. The Superjet 100 is the first newly designed passenger jet made in Russia since the Soviet collapse. The plane vanished soon after the pilot requested permission to descend, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Indonesia told the Interfax news agency. The agency also cited an unidentified spokesman for the Russian Transportation Ministry saying a preflight check had turned up nothing suspicious, a standard assurance offered by Russian transportation authorities after mishaps. “The plane was absolutely flight worthy,” the spokesman said. Gagah Prakoso, a spokesman for Indonesia’s national search and rescue service, said the plane disappeared from radar around Bogor, a mountainous area about 50 miles south of Jakarta, and that 200 police officers and rescue workers had been deployed to find it. “We are still looking for it and we are uncertain whether it crashed,” he was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying. The new model of passenger jet carried much of Russia’s hopes of reviving a commercial aerospace industry with a storied history of accomplishments but plagued by safety problems, breakdowns and lethal crashes, rendering it virtually unable to sell planes outside the former Soviet Union, Iran, Cuba and parts of Africa. Sukhoi, a company far better known for its military fighters, has highlighted its partnership with Western companies in marketing. Alenia Aeronautica, a division of the Italian engineering giant Finmeccanica, owns about 25 percent of the Superjet program and is helping to market the plane in Western Europe, North and South America, Japan and Australia through a subsidiary based in Venice, Superjet International. Sukhoi consulted with Boeing on after-sales service, and it installed avionics from the French company Thales. The list price for the chubby, 100-seat, single-aisle aircraft is $31.7 million, about one-third cheaper than comparable short-hop jets by its competitors, Embraer of Brazil and Bombardier of Canada. The Superjet is Sukhoi’s only commercial product. While only eight are in service today, the company has said it has 200 on order and aims to sell about 1,000 of the planes over the next two decades, and secure a 20 percent of the global market in the 100-seat jet category — a sector dominated by Embraer and Bombardier. But the Superjet seemed afflicted with safety lapses from early on. When it entered commercial service last year with Aeroflot, Russia’s national airline, the first plane was promptly grounded because of a breakdown with a meter that detects leaks in pipes that funnel fresh air, called bleed air, into the cabin. As it entered production, the Russian television station NTV reported that 70 engineers at the plant making the Superjet had obtained fake engineering diplomas by bribing a local technical college. Sukhoi said those employees were not directly involved in assembling the planes. Also of concern for airlines, the finished planes turned out to weigh two tons more than initial estimates presented to airlines based on engineering designs, hurting fuel economy and making them less attractive. Sukhoi has said such deviations are typical for new aircraft. With an expressed goal of exporting 70 percent of its planes, Sukhoi had been stepping up its global marketing campaign. Last week, it began a six-nation road show of presentations to Asian airline executives that had already made stops in Kazakhstan, Myanmar and Pakistan. Wednesday’s flight in Indonesia was to have been followed by visits to Laos and Vietnam. Russian jets have had a particularly rough spell recently, making the sales pitch for the Sukhoi Superjet even more difficult. In 2006, about 400 people died in Tupolev jet crashes in Russia and Ukraine. Last year, a Tupolev Tu-134 crashed while approaching a provincial airfield, killing most of the 52 people aboard, and a Yakovlev that had been chartered by the Lokomotiv hockey team crashed, killing most of the team. The latest lethal crash at home in Russia was in April, involving a French-made turboprop airplane on a short-hop flight in Siberia.
Nicola Clark contributed reporting from Paris.