Pakistan plane crashed as pilots talked about the coronavirus
The Pakistan International Airlines crash, which killed 97 people in May, was due to human error
Islamabad — A plane crash that killed 97 people in Pakistan last month was because of human error by the pilots, who were discussing the coronavirus during the landing, according to an initial report released Wednesday.
The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane came down among houses on May 22 after both engines failed as it approached Karachi airport, killing all but two people on board.
“The pilot as well as the controller didn’t follow the standard rules,” the country’s aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said, announcing the findings in parliament. He added that the pilots had been discussing the coronavirus pandemic as they attempted to land the Airbus A320 and had disengaged the craft’s autopilot.
“Unfortunately, the pilot was overconfident,” Khan said, adding that the plane was flying at more than double the altitude it should have been when he approached to land.
Standard flight operating procedures were then ignored by the pilots and the air traffic controller, resulting in an aborted crash landing that heavily damaged the plane’s engines. The aircraft then went down as it attempted a second landing, crashing into a residential area near the Karachi airport.
The Pakistani investigation team, which included officials from the French government and the aviation industry, analysed data and voice recorders.
The minister said the plane was “100% fit for flying; there was no technical fault”.
The county’s deadliest aviation accident in eight years came days after domestic commercial flights resumed following a two-month Covid-19 lockdown. Many passengers were on their way to spend the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr with loved ones.
About 29 houses were badly damaged in the crash, the minister said during the parliamentary address, adding that the government will compensate residents for property losses.
Pakistan has a chequered military and civilian aviation safety record, with frequent plane and helicopter crashes over the years. In 2016, a PIA plane burst into flames after one of its two turboprop engines failed while flying from the remote north to Islamabad, killing more than 40 people.
The deadliest air disaster on Pakistan soil was in 2010, when an Airbus A321 operated by private airline Airblue and flying from Karachi, crashed into the hills of Islamabad as it came in to land, killing all 152 people on board. An official report blamed the accident on a confused captain and a hostile cockpit atmosphere.
PIA, one of the world’s leading airlines until the 1970s, now suffers from a sinking reputation due to frequent cancellations, delays and financial troubles. It has been involved in numerous controversies over the years, including the jailing of a drunk pilot in Britain in 2013.