KARACHI: The grieving relatives of passengers who lost their lives in the May 22 PK-8303 tragedy held a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Monday to reject the findings of the preliminary crash report issued by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).
There was the father, who lost his three children and wife, there were the sisters who lost their only brother, a 27-year-old with dreams of a bright future in his eyes, there was the son of the only American on the flight who was made to run from pillar to post to find his father’s real remains, there was the widower who still seeks to know what actually happened even after 10 years of losing his wife in the Airblue Flight 202 crash.
And together they rejected the preliminary report, calling it a mere narration of various recordings of the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder. They demanded that the data be further analysed and the proper crash report be issued in light of the Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation procedure issued by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
‘It is easy to blame a poor employee and a dead man’
Asif Iqbal Faruqui, who lost his wife and three children in the crash, asked people to imagine his plight and the plight of others like him who were not even being given the remains of their loved ones, and instead being called liars and being thrown out of offices. He pointed out that DNA, and not dental records, is the only way to determine the identity of bodies that are completely charred, which was the case with the victims of the ill-fated PK-8303. He also said that it is not just an airline but an entire system, which in this case was the Pakistan International Airlines, the pilots, the Civil Aviation Authority and the worker unions that are responsible for checking each part of a plane before putting it in the air. “All these need a major restructuring,” he said.
Kanwal Arsalan, who lost her only brother in the crash, questioned the airline’s standard operating procedures. “If the air traffic control [ATC] staff was on a prayer break when the flight was supposed to land, where were their substitutes? It is, after all, not a single person’s responsibility. Why didn’t air traffic control notice that the plane’s engines were on fire when the pilot was taking it up again? Why wasn’t there any foam on the runway for the plane? Why didn’t they take any emergency action on learning that the plane was in distress? Only Allah knows what must have those poor passengers gone through in those 17 minutes of failed landings before the eventual crash. Think also what we the relatives of the ones who lost their lives must be going through now,” she said. She also asked how come the buildings around the airport happened to be three- or four-storey high? “Why did the Sindh Building Control Authority allow it?”
Yaseen Elaayi said his father, who perished in the crash, used to tell him that Pakistan was a majestic country with honourable, hospitable and humble people who weren’t aware themselves how they are tricked and fooled by those in power. “I have found the people here going out of their way to remove the roadblocks in my way. But I have also encountered here those who have put the blocks in my way and thrown me out of their offices,” he said, adding that he arrived in Pakistan 10 days after the crash on June 2 for which he thanked the Pakistan embassy in the US for issuing him a visa.
“At the time when I reached here, there were still 10 bodies that were awaiting identification. I was taken by PIA to the Edhi morgue and shown each of those bodies for identification,” he said, adding that when he couldn’t identify the charred bodies, he was taken to Karachi University for a DNA test, the results of which were taking time. He had to be tested thrice actually with repeat DNA tests done by the forensics lab in Punjab too. Then when he was found to be a perfect match with a Chhipa body with a particular number and was ready to bury his father with a Lebanese and American flag in his hand, he was informed that they couldn’t find that body he was said to be a match with. Finally, he was helped by other people to find his father and where he had already been buried.
While sharing their personal experiences, all the relatives said that they reject the preliminary report and are throwing it in the dustbin, where it really belongs. “We are here as a direct result of this report, which besides being full of typos, is also full of factual errors. It lacks substance, and with its numerous inconsistencies, raises many questions while putting the full blame on the pilot and air traffic controller. It is easy to blame a poor employee and a dead man,” said Elaayi.
Junaid Hamid, an affecttee of the Airblue crash of 2010, and who has now formed the Airblue Crash Affectees Association, said that in Pakistan, no detailed reports have ever been produced for the previous crashes, too, after the presenting of a preliminary report that has also been issued due to public pressure or on court orders.
The press conference also took up the issue of compensation to the victims’ families, saying that an initial amount of Rs1 million has been given by the federal government. “But Rs5 million is the first tier liability,” Mr Hamid said.
He also said that insurance/compensation after the apportionment of the blame is going to be determined on the basis of different factors based on personal profiles of the victim, such as their age, education, professional experience, social status, number of dependants, future growth possibilities, etc.
He said that currently PIA’s representative lawyer has been contacting families to sign a release document, which they should not sign as the Peshawar High Court has categorically barred families from signing such a document.
Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2020