Pilot error or ATC bungle?

Pilot error or ATC bungle?

On Saturday, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said that before crashing the aircraft to its doom, the pilot followed ILS approach for landing and reported to ATC that the jet had set course on ILS approach about 10 miles ahead of touchdown.

Landing clearance was given about 4 miles from touchdown. “However, during the final approach, the pilot lost control with ATC,” Patel said, clarifying that the ILS was operating normally and weather conditions were fine with visibility of 6 kms. There were calm winds and no rain when the wheels of the aircraft touched the asphalt runway.

As early as last Saturday, Patel had announced plans to extend the runway by another 1,000 feet for enhanced security and even declared setting aside Rs 100 crore for the purpose.

Captain Zlotka Glusica, who had 10,200 hours of flying experience and had commanded 19 previous flights from Mangalore, overshot the landing threshold by 1,500 feet when he should have touched down at the 500-700 feet mark.

It is not clear what the last words of the pilot and his co-pilot, Capt H S Ahluwalia, who has had 3,650 hours of flying experience, of which 3,350 hours were on Boeing 737 aircraft, were before the jet hurtled inexorably towards it doom. The elusive “black box” will likely resolve the puzzle, but DGCA investigators and those at the ATC, who watched in horror the plane wobble and fall into the valley, are left wondering why the two pilots did not begin a normal descent when they should have at the dawn of Saturday.

This suggests the crash was the result of pilot error. But apprehensions are being expressed in various quarters at the airport over the early arrival of the flight and its landing at 6:02 am.

Airport sources suspect the plane landed without necessary ATC clearance. But ATC division deputy general manager Pradeep said his staff gave due clearance with the pilot before the plane landed.

Did the pilots lose “situational awareness” caused by a last moment technical snag that forced the pilot to land the aircraft almost in the middle of the runway? The fforts made by the pilot to take off again proved futile, a fact which the DGCA investigators will certainly consider vital.

In this context, the evidence that will emerge from the “black box”, the plane’s cockpit voice recorder, which could capture any conversation between the two pilots, and the flight data recorder, which would record any manipulation of the controls, would be vital. No less important would be the evidence or the lack of it at the ATC where the staff would know what really went wrong.

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