ISLAMABAD: As air crash investigators began formally looking into Friday’s tragic plane crash, new details emerged that hint at what may have went wrong with PIA flight PK8303.
According to sources in the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the aircraft’s engines may have been damaged during an initial landing approach before the pilot circled it around for another try.
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Speaking to The Express Tribune, the sources said the CAA has carried out a runway inspection and compiled a report that reveals important details about the sequence of events leading up to the crash.
“The captain of flight PK8303 made two attempts to land the plane. During the first, it appears the Airbus A320 aircraft’s landing gear was still retracted as it approached the runway,” a CAA official said on condition of anonymity.
“The runway at Karachi airport is about 10,000 feet long. Between the 4,500 and 7,000 feet marker, inspection revealed friction marks that suggest the plane made some contact with the runway,” he explained. “We suspect these marks were left by the aircraft’s engines as they scraped the runway. At 4,500 feet marker, we noticed marks we believe were from the left engine. The right engine appears to have made contact at the 5,500 mark.”
“The pilot then pulled up again to circle around for a second landing approach. It is possible that the damage caused to the engines when they made contact with the runway led to failure, possibly even fire,” the official added. “As the engines failed, the pilot struggled to maintain an altitude of 2,000 feet and we know what happened then.”
According to CAA officials, the captain never notified air traffic controller that he would be attempting an emergency landing. “The standard operating procedure in case of emergency landings is to spread a special landing foam on the runway before the plane makes an approach. Since the pilot never notified us, we never had a chance to make these arrangements,” another CAA official said.
The details revealed by by the sources appear to confirm some suggestions made by amateur observers and aviation enthusiasts. An image purportedly taken of the plane on its second landing approached did show signs of what appear to be engine damage. It also seemingly showed the plane with its ram air turbine (RAT) engaged. RAT is a backup wind turbine designed to provide electricity for an aircraft’s control systems in case all engines fail.
The recording of the call between the captain of PK8303 and an air traffic controller also appears to support the suggestion that something went wrong with plane’s landing gear. Some former pilots have suggested the beeping noise heard during a portion of the recording is a warning signal the Airbus A320 makes when its landing gears fails to engage correctly.
Aviation authorities on Saturday also released an executive summary of the aircraft, revealing certain facts about its maintenance and operations history. According to the summary, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, the Airbus A320-214 aircraft was 16 years old and up till now, had flown for 47,124 hours.
The aircraft’s last flight before Friday’s ill-fated one between Lahore and Karachi, took place just a day ago when it ferried Pakistani citizens stranded in Muscat to Lahore. The aircraft last underwent a routine check on March 21 this year and major check on October 19 last year. Although it was grounded between March 22 and May 7, this was on account of Covid-19 and not for any airworthiness trouble.
The summary stated the aircraft suffered from no engine, landing gear or major aircraft systems defects and had operated six flights since being pressed back into service on May 7. Both of the aircraft’s engines were installed last year in February and May. Its landing gear was installed in October 2014 and was due for removal and overhaul in October 2024.
According to aviation officials, air crash investigators who have already reached Karachi for a formal inquiry have reached out to both PIA and local CAA staff for further details. The inquiry team, which led by an air commodore, has sought all records and evidence pertaining to the flight, including the black box, quick access recorder and logbook. The black box will be sent to France for decoding, the officials said. The preliminary investigation report will be submitted to the prime minister in a month, they added.