The pilot of the crashed Pakistan International Airlines plane ignored three warnings from the air traffic controllers about the aircraft's altitude and speed before the landing, according to media reports on Monday. The crash of the national flag carrier's flight PK-8303 on Friday, in which 97 people were killed and two miraculously survived, is one of the most catastrophic aviation disasters in Pakistan's aviation history.
The Airbus A-320 aircraft from Lahore to Karachi was 15 nautical miles from the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, flying at an altitude of 10,000 feet above the ground instead of 7,000 when the Air Traffic Control (ATC) issued its first warning to lower the plane's altitude, Geo News quoted an ATC report as saying.
Instead of lowering the altitude, the pilot responded by saying that he was satisfied. When only 10 nautical miles were left till the airport, the plane was at an altitude of 7,000 feet instead of 3,000 feet, it said.
The ATC issued a second warning to the pilot to lower the plane's altitude. However, the pilot responded again by stating that he was satisfied and would handle the situation, saying he was ready for landing, the report said.
The report said that the plane had enough fuel to fly for two hours and 34 minutes, while its total flying time was recorded at one hour and 33 minutes.
Pakistani investigators are trying to find out if the crash is attributable to a pilot error or a technical glitch.
According to a report prepared by the country's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the plane's engines had scraped the runway thrice on the pilot's first attempt to land, causing friction and sparks recorded by the experts.
When the aircraft scraped the ground on the first failed attempt at landing, the engine's oil tank and fuel pump may have been damaged and started to leak, preventing the pilot from achieving the required thrust and speed to raise the aircraft to safety, the report said.
The pilot made a decision "on his own" to undertake a "go-around" after he failed to land the first time. It was only during the go-around that the ATC was informed that landing gear was not deploying, it said.
"The pilot was directed by the air traffic controller to take the aircraft to 3,000 feet, but he managed only 1,800 feet. When the cockpit was reminded to go for the 3,000 feet level, the first officer said 'we are trying'," the report said.
Soon afterwards the pilot reported loss of both engines and said he was “proceeding direct” meaning that he was going for a crash landing, Dawn newspaper reported.
Though the controller cleared the PIA flight to land with both runways (25L and 25R) available, the pilot could be heard giving distress signal “May Day, May Day, May Day”.
Experts said the failure to achieve the directed height indicates that the engines were not responding. The aircraft, thereafter, tilted and crashed suddenly.
The flight crashed at the Jinnah Garden area near Model Colony in Malir on Friday afternoon, minutes before its landing in Karachi's Jinnah International Airport. Eleven people on the ground were injured.
"My pilots were qualified, their checks and balances, and medical tests were complete. My cabin crew was also qualified and my plane's inspection was also complete,” CEO of PIA Air Marshal Arshad Malik said soon after the crash.
The probe team, headed by Air Commodore Muhammad Usman Ghani, President of the Aircraft Accident and Investigation Board, is expected to submit a full report in about three months.
According to the PIA's engineering and maintenance department, the last check of the plane was done on March 21 this year and it had flown from Muscat to Lahore a day before the crash.
The investigators would have to see what caused both engines to stop working. It could be a bird hit or the pilot accidentally shutting off the wrong engine. It is rare for both engines to shut down simultaneously, the Dawn report noted.
Meanwhile, representatives of pilots’ association and aviation experts have expressed concern over the handling of the investigation into the crash of the PIA aircraft by the air force-dominated probe team appointed by the government.
Pakistan Airlines’ Pilots Association (PALPA) Secretary Capt Imran Narejo, while talking to Dawn newspaper, said the “investigation team was not balanced”, because it lacked the representation of commercial pilots.
Commercial pilots better understood the accidents involving commercial jetliners, he explained.
The government appointed a four-member investigation team comprising three officials of the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board, two of whom are Air Force officers, and the fourth member has been co-opted from Pakistan Air Force’s safety board. There is no commercial pilot in the team, which has been asked to submit its findings “within the shortest possible time”.
Another PALPA official, who did not want to be named, said it was crucial for any incident investigation to include a “rated pilot” for the type of the aircraft (Airbus A-320) involved in the accident.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pakistan government had allowed the limited domestic flight operations from five major airports - Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta - from May 16.
After the plane tragedy, the PIA has called off its domestic operations.