July 29, 2010

The Margalla Hills Crash

Despite all the tragedies that have befallen our country, we are faced with yet another one. This time it appears to be human or computer error, rather than the acts of extremist individuals. It has been oft repeated by reputed pilots from Pakistan and the world that the approach to the Benazir Bhutto International Airport is one of the toughest to negotiate; yet fearless Pakistani pilots traverse the concourse daily. The plane crash just highlights the perils of trying to land at one of the most difficult airports in extreme weather conditions. Many lives have been lost in this incident, and I can well imagine the ordeal the families of the deceased will be going through. May Allah give them patience and courage to pass through this ordeal.

Even in this time of national mourning, our media cannot refrain from sensationalizing the news and cashing in on the sorrows of those who have lost all. A headline from Geo News TV’s website reads:
12 passengers miss plane despite having tickets
The question is so what? This is a time of grief, and showing support to the bereaved families. Not a time for increasing viewer ratings. Our media needs to grow up, because the general population, like so many other things, is also running out of patience with it.

The crash’s reasons will become clear once the black box is found. AirBlue has confirmed that the plane was an Airbus A – 321 and it was only 8 years old. There were 152 passengers on board including 6 members of the flight crew. There are no survivors. To read the passenger list on the ill-fated flight, please click here.


Many new technical details have sprouted up since the crash of flight ED 202 in the Margalla Hills. Some of these details give the impression of great human error in the crash. However it is imperative that conclusions not be made before the inquiry has been completed. Having said that, no air crash investigation report has ever been made public. In fact, despite a lot of noise when the last air crash happened in Pakistan (PIA plane crash near Multan, 45 dead), the investigation report of that crash hasn't been made public as yet. A lot of speculation is in-progress in the Pakistani media and among the population so let me just state some facts that have come to light recently.

The pilot was ordered to go around when he was on approach to land in at Benazir Bhutto International Airport. He was in-bound on Runway 12 and the ATC redirected him to re-route and land in on ILS runway 30. 

There are two runways at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport. One of them is called Runway 12, which is non ILS, and the other is called Runway 30, which has ILS. ILS stands for Instrument Landing System. This system is used to guide aircraft to land on auto-pilot settings, and in extreme weather conditions such as the one prevalent in Islamabad at the time of the crash. 

The pilot's last transmission with the ATC has also been made public. It appears as if the ATC warned the pilot twice against going towards Margalla Hills, and flying too low. (Source: Express Tribune
A Chinese aircraft was also given clearance for landing at the same time as the ill-fated Air Blue flight, but the Chinese pilot re-routed. 

The reason why the pilot had to fly towards Margalla Hills was because GHQ and the Dhamial Air base are located on the other side. 

No doubt these points raise a lot of questions. Principal amongst them are a) why isn't Runway 12 ILS enabled and b) should the airspace over the entire Rawalpindi cantonment be restricted? The pilots also need to be trained in Precision Landing Systems i.e. landing manually without the assistance of the auto pilot. It is of course pointless to speculate regarding the exact cause of the crash. These were just some of the technical issues that have come to the fore. (And yes, I do play Microsoft Flight Simulator X.)


Some more bad news for the followers of this news. Qamar Zaman Kaira has denied the reports that the black box of flight AQB 202 has been found. This contradicts the earlier reports that were circulating in the news and media that the black box has been found and it is intact. Earlier in the day Lt. Gen. (R) Nadeem Ahmed also spoke to the media and told them that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) will not be responsible for the search and analysis of the flight's black box. Will update this post as soon as some new updates are provided.


New reports confirm that the pilot was inbound to land on the non ILS Runway 12 when he was ordered to go around and land in on the ILS Runway 30. Also, the flight's number was ED 202, and not AQB 202 as was erroneously reported previously.

May Allah bless the departed souls and provide courage to the those mourning the loss of their loved ones. Amen.