June 15, 2021

Pilots in Pakistan plane crash were distracted by coronavirus worries, minister says

June 24, 2020

The pilots of a Pakistan airliner that crashed last month were having a discussion about coronavirus while preparing for their first failed attempt to land, the country's aviation minister has said.

Ninety-seven people died when the Airbus A320 of Pakistan International Airlines crashed on 22 May in the southern city of Karachi.

It came down just over half a mile short of the runway on its second try, leaving two survivors.

Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan told parliament on Wednesday that the engines of the aircraft had touched the ground as it landed without its wheels on the first attempt, before taking off again.

The flight data showed the landing gear was lowered at 10 nautical miles but then raised again five nautical miles from the runway, which Mr Khan described as "beyond comprehension".

He said the aircraft was "100% fit to fly" and there was no technical fault, and that the pilots were not "focused" because of the pandemic.

"The discussion throughout was about corona," Mr Khan said, referring to a conversation between the pilot and co-pilot he had listened to on the cockpit voice recorder.

"Corona was dominant over their mind. Their family was affected."

The report did not spell out the pilots' conversation on the virus, but noted they did not follow set protocols.

"Several warnings and alerts such as over-speed, landing gear not down and ground proximity alerts, were disregarded," the report added.

"The landing was undertaken with the landing gear retracted. The aircraft touched the runway surface on its engines."

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The report states there was no sign of any malfunction in the landing gear system on the plane, which had taken off from the eastern city of Lahore.

It said both engines failed one-by-one shortly after the engines scraped the runway.

Mr Khan said: "When the plane took off again, both engines had been damaged; and when the plane was making an approach for a second landing it didn't have that power and fell on the residential area."

He said the captain and co-pilot, who both died in the crash, were experienced and medically fit.

They dismissed warnings from air traffic controllers and "started discussing corona again", Mr Khan added.

The secretary of the Pakistan Airline Pilots' Association, Imran Narejo, told Reuters that pilots were expected to not be distracted during crucial procedures such as landing, but said other factors should also be investigated for the complete report.

He said: "It was pointed out the pilots were busy talking about corona, and that they may have overlooked a few things.

"But other reasons were also there, like them not being provided proper support from air traffic control".

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