Flight ED202 was not given its ‘orbit’ by the control tower as it prepared to land in Islamabad, said Director-General of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Junaid Amin at a press conference on Friday. He added that an interim report on the crash would be handed over to the government soon.
‘Orbit’ is the altitude given to planes to fly at before landing by the control tower, in case more than one plane in the vicinity is waiting to land at the same time. However, Amin added that the decision to land or divert to another airport was generally made by the captain of the aircraft and the control tower could not give him any instructions in this regard.
Amin explained the procedure the pilot was supposed to follow to land at Islamabad, saying that the plane should have taken a right turn followed by a left turn to come in parallel to Runway 12.
“Runway 30 was not being used due to bad weather,” said the DG. However, the plane veered right and continued on this course, heading straight for the Margalla Hills, according to Amin.
Amin stressed that the conversation between the plane’s captain, Pervaiz Iqbal Chaudhry, and the control tower and the radar tower was absolutely normal without any trace of panic. The communication link between the plane and the tower remained intact until the crash occurred.
Amin rejected any notions that the pilot was fatigued or too old to fly. He said that only further investigations could reveal whether the plane developed any fault mid-flight.
The aviation authority chief said that a seven-member team comprising officials of the CAA and a pilot from Airblue had visited the site of the crash on Friday. They were accompanied by the 5-member French team from the manufacturers of the Airbus A 321 who had arrived in Pakistan on Thursday to help with the investigation.
Amin said the team had failed to recover the black box yet. “The Flight Data Recorder (Black Box) and the Cockpit Voice Recorders (CVR) could not be located in today’s search. The teams will make a breakthrough in this regard on Saturday hopefully,” he said.
Amin said that once the box was recovered it will be sent to France to be decoded.
The DG said the interim report on the investigations might be submitted in two months but this will not be an authentic inquiry report. Refusing to give a specific timeframe for the completion of the investigation, Amin said the inquiry report will be handed over to the government.
“Only the black box would reveal what went wrong with the plane, from the conversation of the pilots and other details,” Amin added.
The aviation authority head said the investigation will encompass every aspect of how and why the accident occurred. To a question, he said the alleged religious inclination of the pilot will also be investigated. He said the aircraft had modern air and ground warning systems but whether they had operated properly or not could only be ascertained from the data in the black box.
Airblue’s official line
Meanwhile, two days after flight ED 202 crashed into the Margalla Hills, Airblue’s Chief Operating Officer Shahid Khaqan Abbasi appeared before the public to announce compensation to the families of each crash victim.
At a news conference, Abbasi said Airblue’s insurer would pay at least Rs1 million to the kin of each victim as compensation in addition to paying $35 million, on account of the hull value of the plane.
Abbasi said the printed value of insurance at the back of each travel ticket was Rs1 million.
“The final insurance package will be calculated by the reinsurer company in consultation with the Civil Aviation Authority and according to domestic insurance rules, which may be even more than this,” he said. The government has already announced Rs500,000 as compensation to the kin of each victim. The insurance amount will be given out on top of that. He said Airblue’s insurer is The Willis Group, one of three leading aviation reinsurers.
“Our next focus is providing compensation to the kin of the victims and for that a registration process has been started,” he added. He said relatives can register on the Airblue website or can visit any Airblue office.
Abbasi said 102 bodies had been handed over to families and 62 DNA samples had been collected to identify remaining bodies. Abbasi also urged the government to make the finding of the investigation report public. Abbasi did not completely rule out sabotage as the cause of the crash. “I cannot say anything with surety, however, so far there is no such evidence,” he added.
Abbasi ruled out the possibility that the plane had a technical fault: “The plane did not have any fault on record.” It was a modern aircraft only 10 years old and had flown for 34,000 hours, which is a young age according to airline standards, he added.
He also brushed aside rumors that the pilot, the late Captain Pervez, was fatigued. “He last flew a plane 36 hours before taking the ED 202 flight,” said the chief operating officer. The pilot was 61 years old and had a lot of experience, flying 25,000 hours. According to international standards, a person can fly a plane till the age of 65, Abbasi added.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani directed the Interior Minister that the recovery operation following the crash had to be completed urgently.
Talking to Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Friday, the PM said all possible assistance must be extended to the families of the deceased. Malik said most bodies had been handed over to families after their identification. Earlier in the day, police and rescue teams recovered a few more bodies from the wreckage of the plane. (With additional input from wires)
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2010.
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