Crash investigation

24 May, 2020

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HEART-RENDING stories from the PK-8303 crash on Friday have been trickling through: entire families wiped out, a son coming home on a surprise Eid visit to his parents who will never see him alive again, a young woman returning from a funeral in Lahore only to herself perish, and so on. At least 97 people are confirmed dead, with an unknown number on the ground sustaining injuries when the aircraft came down in a crowded residential locality just off the Karachi airport. Two passengers miraculously survived — pinpricks of light in an otherwise desperately sad episode. The survivors and their families, and the public at large, deserve to know the answer to the question: what led to the flight’s catastrophic end? There has been much speculation, largely based on the last few moments of the cockpit crew’s communication with the air control tower, which is grossly little information to go on. PIA on Saturday released a summary on the technical history of this particular Airbus A-320 which said there was “no defect related to the engine, landing gear or major aircraft system”.

The plane crash must be investigated in a transparent manner so the findings are credible and provide the families the most definitive answer possible as to why their loved ones died. However, eyebrows are already being raised over the composition of the team formed by the government to probe the disaster with oversight from the Special Investigation Board. Of the four members that have been named, three belong to the air force. The CEO of PIA happens to be Air Marshal Arshad Mahmood Malik; the PAF officers on the committee are all junior to him in rank. Surely there are worthy civilians who could acquit themselves equally well in their task and whose objectivity, or deference to a senior air force officer, would not be an issue? The pilots’ association has also asked that it, and international aviation bodies, be involved in the probe. Independent plane crash investigation bodies worldwide usually do include airline pilots and co-opt personnel from the relevant aircraft manufacturer. Doubts about how the inquiry into the crash of PK-8303 will unfold are not misplaced. After all, it has been nearly four years since another PIA flight, PK-661, crashed en route to Islamabad from Chitral. Yet the SIB has still not released its final report that explains why 48 people had their lives cut short that day.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2020