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2010 Airblue crash: Centre told to revisit CAA inquiry

Published Jan 20, 2012 12:18am

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PESHAWAR, Jan 19: Dissatisfied with the Civil Aviation Authority investigation into the July 28, 2010 crash of Airblue plane in Islamabad's Margalla hills, the Peshawar High Court on Thursday directed the federal government to constitute a new board of inquiry/investigation under domestic and international laws for revisiting the said probe.

The government was also told to form a separate board of inquiry, including foreign experts, to inspect all aircraft of PIA and private airlines, examine the CAA performance and check the capability of flying pilots and other crew members.

On December 20, the CAA safety investigation board (SIB) had submitted the Airblue crash inquiry report blaming the pilot's errors and inclement weather for the incident, which left all 152 aboard dead.

The court was hearing a writ petition filed by former MNA Marvi Memon and members of the some crash victims' families.

Taking exception to non-compliance of its orders for deputing senior civil judges in Islamabad and Karachi for early completion of documentation for compensation payment, a bench consisting of Chief Justice Dost Mohammad Khan and Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth issued contempt of court notices to the federal defence and law secretaries and asked them to explain their position on the matter.

It observed that the inquiry report submitted by SIB president was found to be inconclusive and incomplete in many aspects as questions asked by the court to him on many aspects of the accident remained unattended and unsatisfied.

The court said the report submitted to it was not strictly in line with the relevant laws and had discrepancies and was incomplete, and therefore, the federal government, especially the defence ministry, should form a board of inquiry/investigation according to provisions of law, both domestic and inter-national, before asking it to complete the task within three months.

It also said the said board should consist of all experts mentioned in charter of ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) and Warsaw Convention of 1929 and other laws on the subject and that it should revisit the SIB findings.

'As we feel, it essential to safeguard the life of citizens being a fundamental right and because of consistent negative reports with regard to national fleet i.e. PIA performance vis-à-vis its large aircraft flying on international route and others on domestic route, we issued directions that this aspect of matter should be investigated into by experts to be provided by ICA, Consortium for Aviation System Advancement, Airlines Pilot Associations and other safety organisations,' the court observed, adding that it should be the duty of the federal government to invite such experts and check the entire PIA fleet whether they are fit for flying anymore on international and domestic flights and why it should not be grounded.

It also issued directions for investigation by experts into capability of flying captains and other crew members and that they should submit their report to it and the government within 90 days of formation.

'It shall also be competent to inquire into facilities and safety measures provided by CAA both to aircraft during flight hours, equipments, ground communication systems, landing and taking of facilities and spare parts purchased and available in store,' it said, adding that the capacity of mechanical, electrical and other engineering staff attached with aircraf t on a daily basis and provide fitness certificate.

The court said the federal government should direct the said board of experts to investigate in a similar manner into all affairs of private airlines.

The chief justice observed that during previous hearing, the court had ordered the speeding up of the compensation payment by the government and Airblue, and the deputing of two senior civil judges in Islamabad and Karachi for documentation of the same. He said compensation should be paid to fami-lies of the crash victims within 90 days.

However, deputy attorney general Mohammad Iqbal Mohmand produced the January 18 fax of defence ministry section officer Mohammad Qadir in which more time was sought saying the advice of the law ministry on the matter was awaited.

'We are shocked to see that how such important matters are handled by top bureaucrats and how directions of this court issued in the constitutional jurisdiction violated,' the bench observed and decided to issue contempt notices to the two secretaries.

The counsel for Airblue, Ali Waseem Sajjad, said his client had been paying Rs5.5 million compensation, the highest in the country's history, to the families of crash victims.

He said Airblue had so far paid compensation to 71 families, while that to 20 more was in documentation process.

The lawyer said compensation won't be paid to 56 families as they had filed cases against his client in different courts and had not been submitting the compulsory undertaking that they would not enter into litigation once they received compensation.

The petitioners' lawyer, Umar Farooq Adam, objected to the said agreements and said such agreements were illegal under the Contract Act.

He said the author of the agreement had mentioned around 150 international organisations apart from Airblue which could not be sued once the compensation was received. He further said under the relevant international convention the company had to pay much higher amount equivalent to 250,000 Francs.

The lawyer alleged that Airblue, CAA inquiry board and others acted in collusion with each other and put the entire blame of the crash on a person (pilot), who could no longer defend himself.

The court said it would not go into the controversy of litigation over the fixing of compensation and leave it to the relevant court to decide.

It, however, said the relevant insurance company was bound to pay compensation through Airblue to legal heirs of victims and that should be done at the earliest.

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