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Retd Air Marshal To Head Mangalore Crash Inquiry

A Court of Inquiry into the Mangalore air crash was set up by the government on Thursday with former Vice Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Bhushan Nilkanth Gokhale, as its head.The Court of Inquiry
PTI June 03, 2010 19:13 IST

A Court of Inquiry into the Mangalore air crash was set up by the government on Thursday with former Vice Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Bhushan Nilkanth Gokhale, as its head.The Court of Inquiry has been asked to complete its investigation and submit the report by August 31, an official spokesperson said. 

The Gokhale inquiry would investigate all aspects of the crash of the Air India Express Boeing 737-800 at the Bajpe Airport on May 22, in which 158 people were killed.
The plane was operating on scheduled flight IX-812 from Dubai to Mangalore when it plunged into a ravine after overshooting the runway on landing.

The government also appointed four experts from different fields to assist Gokhale as assessors. The assessors are Capt Ron Nagar, a former Flight Inspector and pilot of erstwhile Indian Airlines, former DGCA officer S S Nat, Babu Peter, Executive Vice President, (Engineering) in GoAir and former Director in Indian Airlines, and former Executive Director of Airports Authority of India Gurcharan Bhatura.

Director (Airworthiness) at DGCA, S N Dwivedi, will be the Secretary to the CoI, which would be headquartered here. Gokhale, who became the Vice Chief of Air Staff in 2006, has flown the most sophisticated fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force   the Sukhoi 30 MKI.

During his IAF tenure, he has flown over 3500 hours on a variety of combat and trainer aircraft and seen active operations during the 1971 Indo-Pak hostilities.

Gokhale, a qualified flying instructor and a fighter combat leader from the prestigious Tactics and Combat Development Establishment, was also the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Training Command.

Earlier in the day, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel had said large amounts of data and material have been collected by various agencies, including Air India, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and the US National Transportation Safety Board, from the Mangalore crash site.All the material had been taken over by the Inspector of Accidents, which would now hand them over to the CoI.

"The Black Box (Flight Data Recorder), the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the Digital Flight Data Acquisition Unit have all been recovered," Patel said.

Several theories relating to the crash -- like the plane taking an "incorrect" flight path or missing the touchdown point or suffering a brake failure besides pilots' fatigue or a judgemental error by them -- have been suggested by technical experts but all of them have said the final report of the probe should be awaited.  

Government is considering giving more powers to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation(DGCA) and mulling setting up of an independent safety board to separate the role of an aviation regulator and investigator, Patel said.

The Government move comes with aviation safety back in focus after the Mangalore air crash on May 22 in which 158 persons were killed and a few incidents involving flights in the recent weeks.

Patel told reporters today government is considering establishing an independent safety board on the lines of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in a bid to separate the role of a regulator and an investigator.

 After addressing the first meeting of the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council (CASAC), set up within a week of the Mangalore air crash, he said "Government will definitely consider granting full autonomy to the DGCA and empower it to independently carry out its work as a regulator of Indian aviation".

If needed, the government would bring in a "suitable legislation" to turn DGCA into a fully autonomous body with overriding authority on all aviation regulatory matters, he said.  As a need was felt that the role of the regulator and the investigator should be "de-linked", the government was considering a separate body to probe accidents, he said.

The NTSB investigates all major accidents in the US including air crashes or accidents at sea or on highways. It also assists other nations in probing such accidents, like it sent a team of investigators to India after the Mangalore air crash on May 22, in which 158 people lost their lives.

 "We have had a tragic accident. We should not be now found lacking on any front. We will do everything necessary to ensure an orderly growth of aviation in the country. The expectations are very high as the sector is growing," the minister said.

Today's meeting came against the backdrop of directives to all carriers from DGCA asking pilots to refrain from forced soft landings or leaving the cockpit inadequately manned when an aircraft is airborne.

Drawing lessons from the recent crash which occurred on a 'table-top runway' located on a plateau, the DGCA has decided to carry out a drive to inspect systems and facilities at 11 airports described as "critical", Patel said, adding "critical does not mean unsafe. It reflects on the topography of the area where these airports exist".

Sources said the DGCA had sent 11 teams to these airports for inspection and review of the existing facilities, landing and navigational systems as well as the runways and recommend steps for improvements. The "critical airports" are those in Leh, Kullu, Shimla, Port Blair, Agartala, Lengpui, Calicut, Mangalore, Jammu, Patna and Latur.

He said the reports of these teams are "expected to come (to the DGCA) within a week". PTI