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Pakistan plane crash: PIA Flight 8303 pilots were discussing coronavirus before landing attempt, finds probe


The pilots of the ill-fated Pakistan International Airlines Flight 8303, which crashed in Karachi last month, were distracted and overconfident, the Pakistani government said on Wednesday as it made public a preliminary probe report. The pilots were “not focussed” and had the novel coronavirus pandemic on their mind, Pakistan’s aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan told the country’s parliament.

“Throughout, the discussion [between the pilots] was on corona,” Khan said, going on to suggest that one of the reasons the topic of the novel coronavirus was dominating the pilots’ mind was that their families had been impacted.

Giving an example, Khan said that at one point during the flight, when the air traffic controller (ATC) warned the pilots that their plane was flying too high, one of them hurriedly responded that he “will manage” and “returned to talking about corona”.

Khan went on to blame the PIA Fight 8303 crash, which killed nearly 100 people, squarely on human error — mainly overconfidence and distraction on the part of the pilots and lack of communication by the ATC. Both — the pilots and the ATC — did not follow guidelines, Khan said, adding that the plane — an Airbus A320 — was perfectly fit to fly and had not experienced technical problems during its fatal flight.

Pakistan International Airlines Flight 8303 — a Lahore to Karachi service — crashed in Karachi on May 22, killing 97 people. Two passengers miraculously survived the Pakistan plane crash, which took place during the flight’s second landing attempt at the Karachi airport. The pilots of the plane had aborted the first landing attempt.

PILOT ERRORS

According to the Pakistani aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan, the interim probe report into the crash of PIA Flight 8303 has found a series of errors and lapses made by the two experienced pilots of the plane.

Among the first mistakes made was flying the plane too high during its first landing attempt. According to Khan, the probe report has found that the aircraft was flying at a height of over 7,000 feet when it was a little more than 15 kms away from the runway. It should have been flying at 2,500 feet.

Ya Allah, ya Allah, ya Allah [Oh God, oh God, oh God]

– Last words of the pilot

The air traffic controller warned the pilots about the problematic height three times, but the pilots ignored the warnings, with one of them saying that he will ‘manage’ it, Khan said.

Another error — and the most inexplicable of all — was that the pilots raised an already lowered landing gear around 10 kms from the runway. This lapse was termed “beyond comprehension” by the aviation minister in his statement on Wednesday.

Khan also said that during the first landing attempt, PIA Flight 8303 was diving at an angle of 60 degrees. The usual landing angle is 30 degrees, the minister said.

A BUMPY ‘LANDING’

During its first landing attempt, PIA Flight 8303 did not have its landing gear deployed because the pilots had inexplicably raised it moments before. Because of this, the plane landed on its engines and bumped across the runway three times before the pilots decided to take off.

One of the engines of PIA Flight 8303 seen after the plane’s crash (AP photo)

The Pakistani aviation minister said that the engines were damaged upon hitting the runway. He added that the ATC should have intervened at this point but did not. The ATC should have told the pilots about their plane touching down on the runway on its engines, Ghulam Sarwar Khan said, adding that not doing so was a lapse on the part of the controller.

Following the messed up landing attempt, the pilots of PIA Flight 8303 decided to ‘go around’, i.e. take off and come back again for another landing. However, minister Khan said, the flight could not reach the height assigned to it and crashed into a densely populated part of Karachi shortly thereafter.

The last words of the pilot, Khan said, were: “Ya Allah, ya Allah, ya Allah [Oh God, oh God, oh God].”

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