Pilot and Air Traffic Controller Blamed for Pakistan Jet Crash

Pakistan’s aviation minister said the pilots of the Airbus SE A320 jet that crashed last month, killing all but two of the 99 people on board, were distracted by a conversation about the coronavirus pandemic.

The captain and first officer discussed the Covid-19 outbreak in the run-up to a failed landing attempt in Karachi, Ghulam Sarwar Khan told lawmakers in parliament Wednesday. A second approach ended in disaster.

“Coronavirus was on their mind,” Khan said, citing the contents of the plane’s cockpit voice recorder. “When it came to landing position, the control tower informed them that your altitude is too high. The pilot listened in a haste and said I will manage. They again started talking about the virus.”

Both engines of the Pakistan International Airlines Corp. plane were damaged during the first failed landing, Khan said, disclosing findings of the initial investigation report from Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority. The A320 was previously in good order, according to the study, which appears to absolve Airbus and engine maker CFM International of any significant contribution to the tragedy, while also clearing PIA of maintenance or mechanical mistakes.

Not Focused

Khan said the pilots appeared overconfident and weren’t properly focused, adding that one of them had a family member who had fallen victim to the viral outbreak. On the second attempt to bring the plane down a pilot asked for permission to land but wasn’t able to maintain the height needed to reach the runway, crashing into a nearby neighborhood.

The aircraft was flying at 7,220 feet during the first descent instead of the usual 2,500 feet, said Khan. Air-traffic control warned the pilot about the altitude, but he ignored the warning and decided to switch to a manual setting from auto-pilot landing.

The crew deployed the landing gear 10 nautical miles from the runway but then retracted it before touching down, aborting the landing and climbing back into the sky before then gliding into houses as they sought to return to the runway.

The air traffic control tower had seen the plane attempt to land without its gear down, as well as an engine fire, but didn’t give any instructions to the pilot, Khan said.

For the final report, due before the end of this year, investigators plan to scrutinize PIA’s safety practices and supervision of pilots, as well as regulatory oversight of the carrier, according to their preliminary filing. They’ll also examine the actions of air-traffic controllers.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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