Only a week after Pakistan allowed commercial flights to resume after a nationwide shutdown, 97 people were killed in a fiery plane crash in Karachi. Initial reports determined the May 22 crash was due to “human error” and that the pilots were distracted by a coronavirus-related conversation just moments before the crash.
The Pakistan International Airlines flight had 91 passengers and eight crew members on board when pilots twice attempted and failed to land the aircraft, according to the New York Post. Only two of the 99 people on board survived.
Flight PK8303 approached the runway with too much speed and touched the ground before the landing gears were fully extended despite multiple warnings.
“Several warnings and alerts such as over-speed, landing gear not down and ground proximity alerts, were disregarded,” Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said in a report, according to Reuters. “The landing was undertaken with landing gear retracted. The aircraft touched the runway surface on its engines.”
After the unsuccessful attempt to land, the pilots attempted to land the aircraft a second time, but the damage already been done; the aircraft crashed in a nearby neighborhood. A 13-year-old girl in the neighborhood suffered critical injuries and later died in a hospital, according to the Post.
“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,” Khan said during a news conference on June 24.
The report showed the aircraft had no signs of technical issues, and Khan said he believes “human error” played the biggest role.
He said the cockpit voice recorder revealed the pilot and co-pilot were discussing the coronavirus and its impact on their families during the landing process, a discussion that might have distracted them.
The Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority first suspended domestic travel on March 26 in an attempt to control the spread of the virus, according to a news release. The suspension wasn’t lifted until May 15 — just seven days before the crash.
“The discussion throughout was about corona,” Khan said, according to Reuters. “Corona was dominant over their mind.”
The pilots’ conversation, however, was not included in the report, which cited another instance of human error that might have contributed.
Air traffic controllers cleared the flight to land without alerting the pilots that the landing gears were not extended, the report stated. The pilots also were not informed that the engines had scraped the ground, which greatly affected their second attempt to land.
Imran Narejo, secretary of the Pakistan Airline Pilots’ Association, told Reuters that while the pilots’ coronavirus-related conversation might have played a role, the controllers’ lack of communication also contributed.
“It was pointed out the pilots were busy talking about corona, and that they may have overlooked a few things,” he said.
“But other reasons were also there, like them not being provided proper support from air traffic control.”
While the first report revealed much, the investigation is not expected to be concluded until the end of the year, according to the Post.
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