Six days on, cockpit voice recorder found

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Karachi: A worker reacts as a truck is loaded with the wreckage of the crashed PIA plane on Thursday.—Reuters
Karachi: A worker reacts as a truck is loaded with the wreckage of the crashed PIA plane on Thursday.—Reuters

• Prime minister says report on air crash will be made public
• Minister promises preliminary findings to be presented in parliament on June 22
• Compensation package planned for people whose houses were damaged

KARACHI / ISLAMABAD: As Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday ordered a transparent investigation into the air crash that claimed lives of 97 passengers and crewmembers in Karachi and said its findings would be made public, investigators found the missing cockpit voice recorder (CVR) of flight PK-8303 in the plane’s rubble six days after the tragic incident.

The prime minister not only said the report on Karachi air crash should be made public, but also ordered that reports on all previous crashes in the country, including the 2016 Havelian crash, be also released.

As the flight data recorder (FDR) had already been found, a visiting Airbus team had on Wednesday allowed the authorities to lift the debris of the plane in Model Colony in order to find the CVR.

So a renewed search began for the missing recorder on Thursday morning in the presence of Airbus experts. The vital part of the ill-fated aircraft’s ‘black box’ was soon found.

A spokesperson for the Pakistan International Air­lines (PIA) said in a statement the CVR had been handed over to the Aircraft Accident and Investigation Board (AAIB). The recorder would greatly help the investigators understand the circumstances immediately prior to the crash because it contains the complete record of conversations between the cockpit crew and air traffic controllers at the Karachi airport.

The AAIB, notified by the federal government on May 22 with Air Commodore Usman Ghani as its president, is supposed to furnish a preliminary report on the crash within a month of the notification date.

Both the FDR and CVR would be handed over to the 11-member team from Airbus so they could take them to France to decode them. Pakistan is among the countries that do not possess the technology to read or decode the ‘black box’.

Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan confirmed at a press conference that foreign experts would take the two recorders to France to decode them. He said the plane’s wreckage was being shifted to an empty hangar at the airport, where it would be reassembled for investigation purposes.

After identification of five more bodies of crash victims, the total number of bodies identified by Thursday evening had reached 52, said the PIA spokesperson. Forty-seven bodies had been handed over to their families.

He added the process of identification through DNA testing was continuing.

Reports to be made public

In Islamabad, Prime Minister Khan chaired a high-level meeting where he was briefed on the tragedy, initial investigations into the case and efforts being made to ensure holding of “a transparent and impartial inquiry by engaging local and foreign experts”.

Aviation Minister Sarwar Khan, Aviation Secretary Hasan Nasir Jami, and PIA’s chief executive officer Air Marshal Arshad Malik were among those present on the occasion.

The premier said he wanted to assure the affected families that justice would be done in the air crash. “The people would be informed of all facts and details that would come to light in the inquiry report,” he said.

Talking about previous air crashes in the country, Mr Khan directed the authorities concerned to make reports of all such incidents public.

He said that besides paying compensation and facilitating the families of those who died in the crash, a package should be prepared for paying compensation to all the people whose houses were damaged in the crash.

After getting directives from the prime minister, the aviation minister told journalists a preliminary report on the Karachi air crash would be presented in parliament on June 22.

“There have been 12 plane crashes, including the last one. Ten of them involve PIA,” he said, regretting that reports on all of them had never been completed and made public.

“But this time the prime minister has directed me to complete the report in time and a provisional investigation report on the May 22 plane crash would be presented in parliament on June 22. I shall also try my best to present the reports on all crashes in parliament,” he said.

“Action will be taken against all those found responsible in the investigation report.”

About the visiting Airbus team, the minister said they would share their findings with the inquiry board.

Answering a question, Mr Sarwar Khan said under the standard operating procedures if the landing gear of a plane was not working its pilot should request guidance.

He said that in this case the pilot did not announce that the wheels of the aircraft were not operating. “He touched down thrice and there are signs of that landing on the runway. Leave it to the investigation team…”.

The government had announced a compensation of Rs1 million to be paid to the heirs of those who died and Rs500,000 each to the two survivors, said the minister. “We know this is not enough and we will not rest until we have conducted a thorough inquiry into the crash,” he declared.

He said the government would start the rehabilitation process in Model Colony’s affected neighbourhood once experts finalised their damage estimates.

He said that local administration and the Civil Aviation Authority were conducting separate surveys to assess the damage caused to public property.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2020