Pilots in Pakistan plane crash distracted by coronavirus concerns

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Aviation minister presents initial findings, says there was no technical fault

ISLAMABAD: The pilots of a Pakistan airliner that crashed last month, killing 97, were distracted and preoccupied as they talked about the coronavirus pandemic while preparing for an initial failed landing bid, the country's aviation minister said yesterday.

The Airbus A320 of national carrier Pakistan International Airlines crashed on May 22 in the southern city of Karachi, killing all but two of those aboard as it came down a kilometre short of the runway on its second attempt.

The aircraft had landed on its engines on the first attempt, before taking off again, the minister, Mr Ghulam Sarwar Khan, told Parliament as he presented an initial report on the disaster.

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

The aircraft was "100 per cent fit to fly" and there was no technical fault, he said, but added that the pilots were not "focused" because of the pandemic.

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

"Coronavirus was dominant over their mind. Their family was affected (by the virus)."

The report, reviewed by Reuters, did not spell out the pilots' conversation on the virus, but said they did not follow set protocols.


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

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

Neither the pilots nor officials at air traffic control followed set procedures, Mr Khan said.

Both pilots were experienced and medically fit, he said.

Mr Khan added that the data showed flight PK8303 from the eastern city of Lahore was at an altitude of 7,220 feet when 16km from the runway, although it should have been at 2,500 feet.

Air traffic control drew the pilot's attention to the irregularity and advised against landing.

"When they were in landing position, they were warned by the controllers, but he said, 'I'll manage'… and then they started discussing coronavirus again."

He said the inquiry report revealed the pilot had mentioned no technical fault.

"The last words from the pilot were, 'Oh God, oh God, oh God,'" Mr Khan added.

Pakistan has recorded 188,926 infections and 3,755 deaths in the pandemic. - REUTERS