The decoded black box of the ill-fated Bhoja Air B737-200 arrived from the United States this week, to carry forward investigations into the crash that killed 127 people last month on the outskirts of Islamabad.
Sources in the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said the investigation team is currently transcribing the decoded information. A special Boeing team is also likely to arrive in the country in the next three days.
Meanwhile, investigators recorded statements of officials present at the control tower at the time of the crash, sources said.
They added that the statement of the on-duty staff officer at the Radar tower, Mukhtar, who was suspected of failing to convey the loss of altitude to the aircraft’s captain, was also recorded.
Earlier investigations revealed that the plane dropped to 2,000 feet, whereas 2,800 feet is required for safe landing.
Some officials of the CAA, who claimed to have knowledge of ongoing investigations, said the aircraft was brought down by a weather phenomenon called ‘downdraft’.
“Both pilots panicked on entering the downdraft and failed to take emergency measures to prevent a crash,” said the officials. However, an aviation expert rejected the claim, saying a pilot is taught to avoid Cumulonimbus (CB) clouds. Once he gets into it, he cannot do much to avoid a crash, he added.
The expert agreed that the crash might have been caused by a weather phenomenon but it could be ‘microburst’ instead of ‘downdraft’.
Downdraft is a small-scale column of air that rapidly sinks towards the ground, usually accompanied by precipitation – a shower or thunderstorm; however, microburst is a similar weather condition present in CB clouds. It lasts from 30-90 seconds and has a radius of over two kilometres, the expert explained.
He further said that pilots, anywhere in the world, are told to avoid CB clouds, which are indicated by radars in the aircraft. The Boeing 737 in Pakistani companies, including PIA, might not have advanced Doppler radars that provide actual wind patterns. However, every aircraft has weather radars that indicate the presence of CB clouds.
“It may be possible that the weather radars in Bhoja Air B737-200 were either completely out of order or their coordinates were out,” said the expert. In both cases, the pilot would have failed to detect the CB cloud and entered a microburst.
“Once into the CB cloud, you (pilot) can do nothing but recite Kalma,” he added.
Meanwhile, the local police again contacted the management of Bhoja Air at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) for details about the aircraft and the company’s stakeholders to pursue criminal investigations into the case.
The company management has sought two days for a reply to the queries, said police officials.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2012.