• 43 of the 97 bodies identified and handed over to relatives
• Global pilots’ body seeks technical probe in accordance with international standards
• Sindh expresses lack of confidence in federal government’s investigation team
KARACHI: While a team of foreign experts belonging to the manufacturer of the A320 plane that crashed last week in a thickly populated area near Karachi airport arrived here on Tuesday to offer help in the ongoing probe, bodies of another 22 victims had been identified during the Eid holidays and handed over to their relatives for burial.
So far 43 of the 97 bodies have been identified, while DNA samples of the remaining have been taken for their cross-matching with those of their family members.
Except two survivors, all 97 passengers and crewmembers of the ill-fated Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) Lahore-Karachi flight PK-8303 were killed in the crash in Model Colony on May 22.
Airbus sent an 11-member team to Pakistan to what it described as an effort to provide full technical assistance to Pakistani authorities in charge of the investigation as well as the PIA.
The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Association (Ifalpa), a global body, called for inclusion of one of its expert airline pilots as adviser to the president of the Aircraft Accident and Investigation Board (AAIB).
Also, the Sindh government expressed lack of confidence in the investigation team formed by the federal government and demanded a new one which might have pilots’ representation.
Row over DNA testing
A PIA spokesperson said that till Tuesday evening a total of 43 bodies had been handed over to the victims’ families after identification. “DNA tests are being carried out for the identification of remaining  bodies. It’s a difficult process which requires time,” he said.
He said joint teams of the National Disaster Management Authority and Punjab and Sindh governments were working on DNA testing. “A team of University of Health Sciences, Lahore, in cooperation with the Sindh government is also working on DNA testing.”
However, Sindh Information Minister Nasir Shah said at a press conference that experts from Punjab were called without informing the Sindh government and if they were needed the provincial government could have requested by itself.
He said DNA samples were being examined at the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences of Karachi University and it would be completed in 10 days. He said the process of obtaining DNA of the family members of the plane crash victims started immediately after the crash and help desks were also set up at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre and Civil Hospital Karachi.
Meanwhile, in a thinly veiled reference to the accusation made by the Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (Palpa), the PIA spokesman said the exact cause of the crash could only be ascertained through investigations and it was unfair to pin blame on the basis of limited information and a few videos. “This is a national tragedy and any irresponsible act from a group for the sake of its interest is highly condemnable.”
The plane wreckage has not been removed from the scene because investigators are not done with collecting evidence. The site was sealed by paramilitary troops and they did not allow any unauthorised person to visit the site.
The federal government had already constituted the AAIB that has started its work.
Early on Tuesday morning, a team of technical experts from Airbus also arrived in Karachi on a special flight to “assist” the ongoing probe. The team along with PIA and Civil Aviation Authority’s officials visited the runway where the pilot of PK-8303 tried to land but didn’t succeed since the landing gear was not deployed in the first attempt.
Strict security arrangements were made for the team when it visited the crash site in Jinah Garden, Model Colony. The team was provided technical assistance by the PIA’s flight safety and engineering departments at the site of the crash. The team met the AAIB investigators, inspected the plane wreckage, houses hit by the aircraft and other material. The team will be leaving Pakistan in four-five days along with the black box so that Airbus could decode it.
The PIA spokesperson appealed to the residents of Model Colony to hand over any object of the crashed plane, if found in their houses, to the authorities as every piece was vital in the investigation.
Ifalpa wants technical investigation
A communication sent to Dawn from the Montreal office of Ifalpa on Tuesday said the global pilots’ body stressed the need for a technical investigation into the crash in accordance with the international standards. It said such an investigation should strictly follow the provision of Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, which stated that “the sole objective of the investigation of an accident or incident shall be the prevention of accidents and incidents” and that “it is not the purpose of this activity to apportion blame or liability”.
It called upon the authorities that there should be no disclosure of the accident evidence such as recordings to avoid misinterpretation of the events during the ongoing investigations.
On Monday, Ifalpa President Captain Jack Netskar wrote a letter to Air Commodore Usman Ghani, president of the AAIB, seeking inclusion of a pilot investigator in the ongoing probe. He said the association believed that the participation of active commercial pilots was an invaluable asset to any official accident and incident investigation.
“Ifalpa has developed a programme involving accreditation of pilot investigators. These pilots are carefully selected based on their training, qualifications and experience; all have to successfully complete an approved international accident investigation course,” he said, requesting the participation of an Ifalpa expert airline pilot as “adviser to the investigator in charge”.
It may be noted that Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan had promised a transparent inquiry into the plane crash and said the government would public its findings in three months.
No confidence in probe team
Accompanied by Information Minister Nasir Shah at the press conference, Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani expressed lack of confidence in the official body formed to investigate the plane crash. “All members of the investigation committee are subordinates to the PIA chief,” he said, referring to the fact that majority of the team members belonged to the Pakistan Air Force and PIA chief Arshad Malik was a serving Air Marshal of the PAF.
Mr Ghani wondered what would be the purpose of an investigation when the PIA chief had already sorted out all the matters. He demanded that the current investigation team be abolished and a new team with representatives of Palpa and international pilots’ body be formed. He said it was strange that Captain Sajjad Gul, the late pilot of the ill-fated aircraft, was portrayed as a hero one day and as a villain the next day.
Nasir Shah said that instead of criticising the Sindh government, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government should conduct a transparent investigation into the plane crash and should not prolong the issue. The PTI leadership should refrain from politicising a tragic accident and should not lie, he added.
Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2020