PK 8303 crash: Callous, incompetent

Like most air crashes in the past, one fears that this too will be swept under the carpet

Kamal Siddiqi May 31, 2020
A Reuters image of PK 8303 crash.

In the aftermath of the tragic PIA crash in Karachi, we are still looking for answers, but it seems that those in power are not in a mood to oblige. While Prime Minister Imran Khan spent his Eid holidays in Nathiagali, the families of those who died in the crash were running pillar to post to secure the remains of their loved ones.

The Punjab government blamed the Sindh government for the lack of coordination while both blamed the federal government. In a programme aired on the subject, one of the affected family members challenged the PM’s adviser on health, Dr Zafar Mirza, to name the one person or one agency that the victims’ families could contact to have their questions answered. Dr Mirza had no answer. This itself illustrated the lack of interest in helping those who are suffering.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) remains missing. PIA management also was not of much help. Officials were helping in their individual capacity. And the calls for help remained unanswered from those agencies whose job it was to facilitate.

Take for example the heart-rending videos that were shared on social media of the appeal made by Lahore resident Arif Iqbal who lost his entire family in the crash. Arif appealed time and again to the Prime Minister and to all those who mattered to help him find the remains of his two younger children.

He says in the video that he was able to identify his wife by her ring and a watch that she was wearing. In the case of his elder daughter, he was able to identify her by her clothes. But for his two other children, he said in the video that his biggest fear was that the remains of his children may have been taken away by some other family. No help was forthcoming, and it was only with personal intervention of some kind-hearted souls that the remains were finally identified.

Many family members of Friday’s plane crash complained of incompetence and a lack of concern by both PIA and the federal government. Adil Rahman, who lost both his parents in the crash, tweets, “the ordeal we are suffering at the hands of #PIA is inexcusable. Callous, Insensitive, incompetent...”.

One also needs to question the role of the PIA management. The CEO continues to also change his statements. On the first day, he insisted that nothing was wrong with the plane. After a protest from the Pakistan Airline Pilots Association (PALPA), he changed his statement and conceded that the plane “may have had some technical problems”.

Families complained that the plane arranged to bring them from Lahore to Karachi was filthy. It was making strange noises which scared them. On ground in Karachi, the airline provided the families with hotel rooms but little else. There isn’t even a help desk where the families could go to seek answers.

So far both PIA and the government have been evasive. The inquiry committee set up by the government has been rejected by the victims’ families as it comprises officials who are investigating those who are technically their seniors. This is not the first time an inquiry committee has been lop-sided.

Senator Raza Rabbani has said that the inquiry committee constituted by the federal government is “soaked in conflict of interest”. The committee, says Senator Rabbani, also does not include any person conversant with commercial flying and procedures. It is devoid of any rated pilot or one having flown the Airbus.

It seems the powers that be are all looking at pilot error as the possible cause. But as lawyer Jibran Nasir observed, it is easy to put the blame on someone not there anymore to speak for himself while it is difficult to raise questions to those still alive and in high places of power under whom the system is rotting unchecked.

The father of the captain of the plane, Gul Muhammad Bhatti, told the media that it pained him to say that the PIA’s top hierarchy itself is leaking bits of the inquiry report and blaming people left and right for negligence. He begged the Punjab governor to intervene and provide justice.

Like most air crashes in the past, one fears that this too will be swept under the carpet. No lessons will be learnt and it will be business as usual in a few months.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2020.

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