Plane crashed ‘as distracted pilots discussed Covid fears’

Preliminary report says ‘human error’ to blame for crash in Pakistan that claimed 98 lives

A security guard stands beside the wreckage of the plane
(Image credit: Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images)

The pilots of a passenger plane that crashed in Karachi last month repeatedly ignored directions from air traffic controllers after getting caught up in a chat about the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Pakistani authorities.

A preliminary report on the crash says that the two Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) pilots repeatedly ignored instructions and warnings from air traffic control that the plane was flying too high on its approach to the runway at Jinnah International Airport, The New York Times reports.

The pair “also ignored automated warnings in the cockpit and failed to lower the landing gear, causing the plane’s engines to hit the runway”, says the newspaper.

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“The pilot and co-pilot were not focused and throughout they were having a conversation about corona,” Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan told the Pakistani parliament’s National Assembly on Wednesday. “The [virus] was on their minds. Their families were affected and they were having a discussion about it.”

The duo failed to follow protocol, said Khan, adding that “the pilot was overconfident”.

After failing to deploy the plane’s landing gear and scraping the engines, the pilots took off again to make a second landing attempt.

But according to the investigators’ report, “air traffic controllers failed to inform the pilot that the engines had been left badly damaged”, says the BBC.

Both engines failed as the Airbus A320 turned to attempt a second landing, leading the plane to plummet into a crowded residential area. A total of 98 people were killed in the crash, including a child on the ground, with only two passengers surviving.

Many of the people on the plane, which departed from Lahore, were heading home for the Islamic holiday of Eid-al-Fitr.

Pakistan has a chequered aviation safety record. In 2010, an aircraft operated by private airline Airblue crashed near Islamabad, killing all 152 people on board.

And in 2016, “a PIA plane burst into flames while travelling from northern Pakistan to Islamabad, killing 47 people”, says the BBC.

The latest crash “came days after domestic commercial flights resumed following a two-month coronavirus lockdown”, adds The Guardian.

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