PIA's pilots, engrossed in virus talk, caused Karachi plane crash: Minister - GulfToday

PIA's pilots, engrossed in virus talk, caused Karachi plane crash: Minister

Security personnel stand beside the wreckage of the crashed PIA plane in a residential in Karachi. File / AFP

The pilots of a Pakistan airliner that crashed last month, killing 97, were distracted and preoccupied as they talked about the coronavirus pandemic while preparing for an initial failed landing bid, the country's aviation minister said on Wednesday.

Minister for Civil Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan on Wednesday presented the preliminary report on the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane crash before the National Assembly, where he accused the pilots of being “over confident.” Sarwar added that the pilots were not “focused” because of the coronavirus pandemic.

SarwarKhanAFP Ghulam Sarwar Khan speaks during a press conference in Islamabad on Wednesday, after announcing in parliament the findings report of last month PIA plane crash. AFP

The Airbus A320 of national carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) crashed on May 22 in the southern city of Karachi, killing all but two of those aboard as it came down a kilometre short of the runway on its second attempt.

The aircraft had landed on its engines on the first attempt, before taking off again, the minister, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, told parliament as he presented an initial report on the disaster.


The flight data recorder showed the landing gear was lowered at 10 nautical miles, Sarwar said, but then raised again 5 nautical miles from the runway, which he described as "beyond comprehension."

The aircraft was "100 per cent fit to fly" and there was no technical fault, he said, but added that the pilots were not "focused" because of the pandemic.

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The plane touched the runway thrice, which damaged the engines, minister said.

"The discussion throughout was about corona," Sarwar said, referring to exchanges between the pilot and co-pilot he said he had listened to on the cockpit voice recorder. "Corona was dominant over their mind. Their family was affected (by the virus)."

The report, reviewed by Reuters, did not spell out the pilots' conversation on the virus, but said they did not follow set protocols.

"Several warnings and alerts such as over-speed, landing gear not down and ground proximity alerts, were disregarded," it added. "The landing was undertaken with landing gear retracted. The aircraft touched the runway surface on its engines."

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'Its flight data recorder showed the landing gear was raised after having been lowered in preparation for landing.'

Both the pilots and officials at air traffic control did not follow set procedures, Sarwar said. "The captain and the co-pilot were experienced and medically fit," the minister said.

Sarwar added that the data showed flight PK8303 from the eastern city of Lahore was at an altitude of just 2,200m when 16km from the runway, although it should have been at 762m.

Air traffic control drew the pilot's attention to the irregularity, and advised against landing, instead urging a go-around, Khan said.

"When they were in landing position, they were warned by the controllers, but he said, 'I'll manage'… and then they started discussing corona again."

PIAsurviroAFPMohammad Zubair (L), 24, a survivor of the PIA plane crash, rests next to his elder brother Arshad Ali at his home in Karachi. AFP

He said the inquiry report revealed the pilot had mentioned no technical fault during the final approach.

"The last words from the pilot were, 'Oh God, oh God, oh God,'" Sarwar added.

Pakistan has recorded 188,926 infections and 3,755 deaths in the virus pandemic, with a big spike in reported cases over the last month.


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