Preliminary report holds pilots, ATC responsible for PIA plane crash

Our Correspondent


ISLAMABAD: While presenting the initial investigation report on the Pakistan International Airline (PIA) plane crash before the National Assembly on Wednesday, the government held the pilot and the air-traffic controller (ATC) responsible for not following the “standard protocol” which resulted in the killing of 97 of 99 passengers on board. The Karachi-bound flight PK-8303 crashed on May 23 in Karachi’s Model Colony neighbourhood, close to the Jinnah International Airport, killing all but two of the 99 aboard. The Airbus A-320 from Lahore came down about a kilometre short of the runway on its second attempt to land. Shortly after the crash, the government had formed a committee headed by Air Commodore Usman Ghani, who is president of the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board (AAIB), to determine the causes of the crash and issue a report in one month’s time. The manufacturer, Airbus, also offered technical assistance to the government team.

Minister for Aviation Division Ghulam Sarwar Khan, who presented the report in the Lower House, said there was no technical fault in the aircraft and both the pilots were medically fit to fly.

“According to the report, the plane was 100 per cent fit for flying. It had no technical fault. Flights were suspended due to coronavirus, the plane took its first flight on May 7 and the crash happened on May 22. In between, it completed six flights successfully; five to and from Karachi and one to Sharjah,” he said.

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“The pilot on the final approach did not identify any technical fault [as well]. At a distance of 10 miles from the runway, the plane should have been at an altitude of 10,200 feet but it was around 7,000 feet. This was the first irregularity,” the minister added.

Khan said that the ATC told the pilot thrice that the plane was too low to land but he “refused to listen”. Another important factor, he added, was that the pilot closed the landing gear at a distance of five nautical miles from the runway even though they were open before.

According to the report, the plane was on auto-landing but the pilot brought it back to the manual landing before the crash. It should have come in at 40 degrees but it dived at 60 degrees, he added.

The minister also blamed the pilots’ “overconfidence and lack of focus” for the crash. “The pilots were discussing coronavirus throughout the flight. They were not focused. They talked about corona […] their families were affected. When the control tower asked him to increase the plane’s height, the pilot said ‘I’ll manage’. There was [the level of their] overconfidence.”

According to Khan, data from the Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) was decoded in the presence of foreign experts.

The minister, however, added that the control tower was at fault too for not pointing out the damage to the plane after a failed attempt at landing.

“[Air-traffic controller] should have informed when he saw the engines on fire. The control tower did not inform the pilot [so it] was at fault too. When the plane took off again, both engines were damaged.

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