Kathmandu plane crash: ATC's rush to scapegoat pilot appalling, seems like a deliberate attempt to deflect blame

It is appalling that the Air Traffic Control (ATC) at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport could so cavalierly discuss the pilot’s alleged refusal to obey orders and indict the flight deck minutes after the accident. While pilot error or what is generally known as the human factor is the most comfortable solution and suits the manufacturer, hull insurance, the carrier (basically everyone apart from the pilots’ union) some propriety must be observed. You can't just destroy a man’s reputation.

Nepalese rescuers work amid the debris after a passenger plane from Bangladesh crashed at the airport in Kathmandu. AP

Nepalese rescuers work amid the debris after a passenger plane from Bangladesh crashed at the airport in Kathmandu. AP

In this case, the unholy haste to blame the pilot seems not only inappropriate but almost like a deliberate attempt to accentuate ATC’s innocence and deflect the issue entirely. However, there are reports that ATC gave counter orders to the pilot which only confused him further. This must be investigated.

Why did the pilot go around twice? Who asked him to vector? For a turboprop, whether you approach from the north or south, the strip is enough to make a landing. This aircraft can land on a 1,200 metre strip. The runway is 2,000 metres long.

Normally, ATC tapes are sealed. Those handling the aircraft traffic in the tower asked to ‘stand down’ till the preliminary inquiry is completed and the exchange of words, sentiments and orders are studied for nuances and indications of outside factors impacting the confusion which led to the crash.

Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable. You'll get as many versions as you will people who saw it. Not one aircrash investigation has depended on eyewitness accounts, so all this stuff about the plane skidding and veering multiple times and not being aligned with the runway is okay as media titillation, but has absolutely no role in the final probe findings. In fact, investigators will have to make the effort to rise above the clutter and assess the attitude of the aircraft through its descent and from the point of impact to point of rest of the fuselage.

What is even more incredible and almost Mickey Mouse in its texture is that the audio of the conversation between the flight deck and the ATC was posted on YouTube. The confusion over Runway 02 and 20 seems to have been accentuated. It is criminal that it has been leaked.

We are told the pilot either came in hot and high or low and stalling from the opposite side of the designated runway against ATC orders. Which pilot would do this deliberately and put himself in this position? Unless he was under some sort of duress or pressure in the flight deck (including a sudden incapacitation) in which case the co-pilot should have been able to land a turboprop even if touchdown was a tad late.

Pilots do not ignore ATC unless there is a compelling reason. Again, none of us can second guess this aspect. Suffice to say, that the final moments of speech on the Cockpit Voice Recorder will shed some light on it. For now, the proper procedure must be followed and the reputation of the pilot, who is always a favourite scapegoat (based on the legendary premise that dead pilots cannot defend themselves) must be protected until the facts are in. To do any less would be a miscarriage of justice.

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Updated Date: Mar 13, 2018 20:57:15 IST

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