Air crash: A ntional tragedy
April 27, 2012
It’s really a dark and foggy night for all those 127 families who lost their dear ones in this national tragedy coming so close on the heels of Siache avalanche tragedy.
A Pakistani passenger jet crashed in bad weather Friday killing all 127 people on board in the country's second worst ever air accident after the Airblue crash in 2010. The passenger plane of Bhoja Air was preparing to land when it went down near Koral Chowk on Islamabad Express Highway, Rawalpindi. The plane took off from Karachi at 5:00pm and was supposed to land in Islamabad at 6:40pm but crashed just before landing.
The airline said the Boeing 737 was carrying 121 passengers, including 11 children, as well as six crew when it went down. Among the victims were a newly wedded couple going on their honeymoon.
Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) confirmed the crash, and blamed it on poor weather. A violent storm lashed parts of the capital around the same time as the crash. According to witnesses, it was raining heavily and the clouds were lower than usual.
According to Met experts, the plane might have gotten trapped in Cumulonimbus (CB) cloud. CB is a heavy and dense cloud of considerable vertical extent in the form of a mountain or huge tower, often associated with heavy precipitation, lightning and thunder. The mature CB cloud has a distinctive flat, anvil shaped top. In the aviation industry the CB cloud is considered as the number 1 enemy of pilots. The CB cloud has heavy wake turbulence, static charge and icing which are very dangerous for the aircraft.
The Meteorological Department had issued weather warnings to PCAA. Why was the plane not diverted to Lahore? Why was it cleared for landing? Eyewitnesses said the ill-fated plane was struck by lightening. The plane blew up while it was in the air, they said. “It was raining and there was lightening when the plane blew up.”
Aviation experts opine that the aircraft might have been struck by a lightning bolt as the electrical activity in the thunderclouds above was in full swing. The lightening may have caused a spark in the fuel system, they said.
Bhoja Air started operations on domestic routes on 7thovember 1993. The airline operated domestic flights between Karachi, Lahore and Quetta with a dry leased Boeing 737-200. It was registered in Pakistan making Bhoja the first private airline in the country to operate a Western manufactured aircraft.
Bhoja Air ceased operations in 2000 due to financial difficulties and succumbed to numerous debts. It was announced in November 2011 that the airline would restart operations in 2012. Bhoja Air's inaugural flight Bhoja Air Flight 213 from Karachi to Islamabad crashed about 10 Kilometers before landing at Islamabad Airport.
Questions about the airworthiness of the aircraft are being asked. AviationSaftey Network on its site states that Bhoja Airlines had bought this 27.4 years old aircraft from Shaheen Airlines after it was scrapped by the latter for its compromised flight-worthiness.
The aircraft had been grounded for two years and was recently "cleared" for operation after political pressure on the PCAA. It seems that some underhand dealing took place in the airworthiness section of the PCAA to clear the plane. The application of airworthiness defines the condition of an aircraft and supplies the basis for judgment of the suitability for flight of that aircraft approved by competent authority. In Pakistan it is the Airworthiness section of the CAA that issues clearance certificate to aircraft.
The question in the mind of the families of the victims is who issued the fitness certificate? Was the person competent and qualified to issue the certificate?
This issue needs to be examined as the safety of the passengers is at stake. Bhoja crash has raised many questions and there are no answers from the competent authorities, namely PCAA.
Pakistan has a category 1 safety rating from the US’s Federal Aviation Administration, which means it meets international standards. Recently on a talk show on private TV channels, President PALPA, PIA, had declared Pakistan’s air space as “no more safe”. This statement was not contradicted by President Air Traffic Controller, PCAA who was also present in the talk show.
PALPA had been supporting the Air Traffic Controller Guild in their excessive allowance rating demand. It seems unlikely that PCAA had informed International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) of Pakistan’s air space as “no more safe”. Had they informed ICAO, PCAA’s international ratings would have plunged considerably.
Anyways. The Bhoja crash evokes memories of the Airblue flight ED-202 which crashed into the Margalla Hills in Islamabad in July 2010. Even then the weather was pretty bad and all 152 on board were killed.
In both these major aviation disasters in Pakistan there was no coordinated rescue operation by PCAA. No information and help desks were set up to facilitate the families of the victims who were seen running from pillar to post for any information.
Debris was scattered across the crash site as workers sifted through the wreckage. Rescue workers also faced difficulties in carrying out rescue operations due to low visibility. Rescuers had to rely on the car headlights and cell phones to search for bodies strewn over a large area. No proper arrangement for lights was made by the competent authorities.
Majority of the rescue operation was carried out by volunteers and not professionals. ICAO has made it mandatory the setting up of Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) at all airports. Is there no RCC at Islamabad Airport? If there is such a centre(s) then do they meet ICAO standards? Are the personnel managing the RCC properly trained to meet such eventuality?
Proper body bags were not provided to the rescuers. Local residents had donated their bed sheets for collecting body parts. In one instance rescuers were even seen carrying the body parts in a plastic shopping bag!
Now the government has decided to set up a judicial commission to probe the crash. Globally, aircraft accidents are investigated by independent bodies without interference of aviation authorities and airlines. In Pakistan the Safety Investigation Board of Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority is responsible for investigating all civil aircraft accidents and incidents.
Following an aircraft accident two parallel investigations are conducted, one is technical and the other is a judicial investigation.
According to ICAO’s Manual of Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation the primary object of the technical investigation is to establish the facts related to an aircraft accident. Standard 3.1 of ICAO Annex 13 (Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation) stipulates that the sole objective of technical investigation of aircraft accident or incident is to prevent accidents form reoccurrence and not to apportion blame or liability.
Judicial investigation, on the other hand, is conducted by the courts of law. Basic object of judicial investigation is to apportion blame for criminal and civil liability on the concerned parties that have been at fault. Based on the findings of judicial investigation pilots, air traffic controllers, aircraft maintenance engineers and other aviation professionals have been criminally prosecuted throughout the world with multiple charges of breach of duty, criminal negligence and involuntarily manslaughter.
Investigation reports of Airblue and other aircraft accidents have long been shrouded in mystery. Of the 190 ICAO Contracting States, investigation reports of aircraft accidents are secret in Pakistan only. Why?
Like the Airblue victims’ loved ones, Bhoja victims’ families too will await for the findings of investigation report. Investigation reports of aircraft accidents should be made public in order to serve one of the fundamental purposes for the administration of justice.
Once the initial report is presented, the government will offer compensation which would be obtained from the insurance companies. But can any monetary compensation bring back the father, brother, husband, mother, children and wife of those who will always look at the door hoping that their loved one walks in?
Bojha air crash is a national tragedy. The government has not announced even one day of mourning. But when their own jiyala is killed the entire country is paralysed and days of mandatory mourning are observed. Such are the pathetic morals of our leaders.
The shockwaves from this senseless tragedy were felt all over the world. It is extremely sad for us to know of this incident and our heart cries of blood while the criminals are sleeping peacefully in their comfortable homes. We are deeply saddened. We cannot go and condole with all the victims’ families personally but we send our condolences to all of them. We can only take solace from this: Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un.