‘Everybody knew it was pilot’s mistake’: Kozhikode air crash survivors react to the probe report

plane crash
An enquiry report has blamed the poor crew scheduling policy of the airlines.

With the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) releasing its investigation report on the 2020 Kozhikode air crash on Saturday, many injured passengers felt that the findings vindicated their claims.

The inquiry report stated that wrong decisions by the pilot caused the accident. It also blamed co-pilot’s lack of assertiveness, poor crew scheduling policy of the airlines, faculty cockpit windshield wiper, heavy rain at the airport, wrong selection of runway and incorrect wind speed information given to pilots as contributing factors.

The Air India Express 737-800 aircraft, which took off from Dubai on August 7 with 184 passengers on board, crashed at the Kozhikode International Airport at 7.41 pm, killing 21 passengers and two pilots. The remaining 165 persons suffered moderate to very serious injuries and are undergoing treatment.

The pilot had aborted two landing attempts due to inclement weather before going for the third at 7.37 pm. The attempt failed and the flight skidded off the runway and fell into a gorge. It broke into three sections.

The inquiry report stated that the aircraft touched down at the centre of the runway - at 4,438ft on the 8,858ft runway - and sped off the runway at 155 kmph. “It crossed the safety area and hit a navigation aid antenna before rolling down 110 feet from the tabletop hill airport. It slammed into the airport perimeter wall at 75kmph,” the report stated.

The report blamed the poor crew scheduling policy of the airlines.

“Before operating the flight, The Air India Express had told the commander that he had to operate the next day’s flight out of Kozhikode to Doha. The actions and decisions of the commander were steered by a misplaced motivation to land at Karipur to operate the next day's morning flight. The unavailability of sufficient numbers of captains at Karipur was the result of faulty Air India Express HR policy. The commander had vast experience of landing at Karipur under similar weather conditions. This experience might have led to overconfidence leading to complacency and a state of reduced conscious attention,” the report stated.

It stated that the commander was taking ‘multiple unprescribed anti-diabetic drugs that could have probably caused subtle cognitive deficits’

The report blamed the wrong information passed onto the pilot about the tailwind from the air traffic controller (ATC). According to the report, the ATC told the commander that the runway had a tailwind of 18km when the actual tailwind was 29kmph. Experts said that aircraft needed a longer length of the runway to touch down before coming to a halt.

‘Everybody knew it’
Mohammed Shareef, who suffered serious injuries in the accident, said he was quite relieved to know that the report was finally out. “We have been waiting for this for more than a year. And the probe established the pilot's mistake for the crash. I thank the Almighty for saving us while remembering the departed souls,” he said over the phone from his residence in Ponnani while trying to hold his grief.

Thirty-nine-year-old Shareef has already undergone three surgeries to enable his foot rotation.

Another victim from Kozhikode district, who prefers anonymity, said everybody knew that pilot’s misadventure caused the crash and the report vindicated their claims. “There is nothing new in the probe report. Everybody knew that the pilot’s mistake caused the accident. It is a slap on those who tried to blame the airport. I hope the airlines will now offer us decent compensation,” he said.

Medical care & compensation
In August, Onmanorama reported about Air India Express’ decision to stop providing medical care to the injured passengers.

The airlines had informed the victims that the company could no longer bear the medical expenses as it had offered them the compensation package.

This has drawn sharp criticism from the injured. They alleged that the airlines was forcing them to accept an ‘unjust’ compensation package.

Many of the injured were offered a paltry amount as compensation. They claimed that they are eligible for a better package going by the Montreal Convention (The convention addresses and determines the airline’s obligations, including passenger rights and compensation if an international flight crashes. India had adopted the Montreal Convention in 2009 and modified the country’s Carriage by Air Act in 2016 to unify rules governing the compensation globally). According to lawyers dealing with air accident cases, the victims are eligible to get Rs 1.38 crore each going by the Montreal Convention clauses. They felt that Air India Express did not adhere to the Montreal Convention clauses while preparing the compensation package.

‘Big relief’
Aircrash Action Council formed by Malabar Development Forum (MDF) stated that the probe report provided a huge relief to injured passengers.

“The probe has confirmed human error as the cause for the crash. It did not find fault with technical issues or the airport runway. It is a big relief for us. We believe that it will not affect the compensation claims of the passengers,” the action council’s secretary, Abdurahiman Edakuny said.

In the wake of the report, the action council has urged the civil aviation department to revoke the suspension on the operations of wide-bodied aircraft at Kozhikode airport. “The probe has established the safety of the airport. So we appeal to the civil aviation department to lift the ban on big aircrafts,” Abdurahiman said.

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