Pakistan plane crash that killed 98 blamed on ‘human error’

Initial investigative report blames pilots and air traffic controllers for failed landing attempt and subsequent crash.

Wreckage of state run Pakistan International Airlines, Airbus A320 is lying amid houses of a residential colony days after it crashed, in Karachi, Pakistan, 24 May 2020. The death toll in a plane cras
Pakistan Aviation Minister said 'the pilot and co-pilot were not focused' and had been discussing the coronavirus pandemic just before the crash [File: EPA]

Islamabad, Pakistan – A commercial plane crash that killed 98 people in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi last month was primarily due to human error, according to an interim investigation report into the disaster.

Pakistan’s aviation minister read out parts of the report and presented it to Parliament in the capital Islamabad on Wednesday.

“According to the initial investigative report, the pilot and the [air traffic] controller both did not adopt the proper procedure,” said Ghulam Sarwar Khan.

The initial report was based on data from the aircraft’s digital flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, decoded by investigators in France earlier this month, days after the May 22 crash.

The report’s accuracy has been disputed by the country’s main pilot’s body, the Pakistan Air Line Pilots Association (PALPA), according to a spokesperson.


Pakistan International Airlines flight PK-8303 crashed into a residential neighbourhood in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, after an earlier aborted landing attempt, falling two kilometres (1.24 miles) short of the runway at the Jinnah International Airport.

Khan said the aircraft had been approaching the runway at an unsafe approach angle after ignoring air traffic control warnings to lower its altitude while still 10 nautical miles (18.5km) from the runway.

The pilot deployed his landing gear at that point, but flight data shows the gear was retracted again five nautical miles (9.3km) from the runway.

The aircraft scraped the ground on its aborted landing, the engines hitting the runway at least three times, initial reports indicated.

“On one side, the pilot ignored the controller’s advice, and on the other side the controller did not tell the pilot about the damage to his engines after they scraped [the ground].”

The pilots then attempted to go around for another landing, but the plane was not able to gain altitude as its engines failed, causing it to plummet to the ground into the Model Colony residential neighbourhood.

Ninety-seven of the 99 people on board the aircraft were killed, only two passengers surviving after they were thrown from the wreckage on first impact.

A child, who was in one of the 29 homes destroyed by the plane, was killed on the ground by the aircraft’s impact.

Khan said the initial investigation had ruled out any technical faults in the aircraft.

“Based on this preliminary report, this […] aircraft was 100 percent fit to fly,” he said. “There was no technical fault of any kind in it.”

‘No clue’

PALPA responded to the report by disputing its findings, questioning its accuracy when none of the four members of the Pakistani Air Accident Investigation Board was a pilot rated to fly the Airbus A320 aircraft, the model of the crashed airliner.

“We have no clue about it, we have not even seen the report,” PALPA spokesman Qasim Qadir told Al Jazeera.

“We have not at all been included in this, not even as a silent observer,” Qadir said. “None of [the investigators] are rated on this plane or know this plane”.

Wreckage of state run Pakistan International Airlines, Airbus A320 is lying amid houses of a residential colony days after it crashed, in Karachi, Pakistan, 24 May 2020. The death toll in a plane cras
Wreckage of state-run Pakistan International Airlines plane lying amid houses of a residential district days after it crashed [EPA]

Speaking to Parliament, Aviation Minister Khan said Pakistan’s air-crash investigators had been assisted by a 10-person international team, including members from France and the United States.

He said a “senior Turkish pilot” had been included as a technical adviser.

“There is free, fair and transparent investigation ongoing, and this is its preliminary report,” he said.

The International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations, which offered its technical assistance to the Pakistani investigation in a letter on May 24, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the initial report.

According to Khan, “the pilot and co-pilot were not focused” and had been discussing the coronavirus pandemic when air traffic control first alerted them to their excessive altitude.

“[The pilot] listened in haste and replied that he would manage it. And then returned to talking about corona,” said Khan.

“There was an overconfidence, unfortunately, and that focus and concentration was not there.”

Khan also said air traffic controllers were also at fault during the failed initial landing.

“The controller is also negligent that when he saw the aircraft touch down on its engines and saw fire coming out of the engines, he should have informed [the pilot],” said Khan. “But the control tower did not inform the pilot.”

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim

Source: Al Jazeera