India crash report blames sleepy pilot
NEW DELHI – The pilot of an Air India flight that crashed in May, killing 158 passengers, slept through more than half the flight and woke up disoriented when it was time to land the aircraft, an investigative panel concluded, according to media reports Wednesday.
The Court of Inquiry appointed by the Indian government to probe the May 22 crash concluded that flight commander Zlatko Glusica was disoriented and his reactions were slow while bringing the aircraft in for a landing at Mangalore airport, Hindustan Times newspaper reported.
A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, confirmed the newspaper article was accurate, but said the report would be made public only after it was presented to the Indian Parliament.
The Air India Express flight from Dubai to Mangalore in southern India overshot a hilltop runway, crashed and plunged over a cliff, killing 158 people instantly. Eight people survived the crash.
The panel examined information contained in the digital flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder of the aircraft, which were found at the crash site.
The panel said Glusica reacted late and did not follow many standard operating procedures during the landing.
Glusica was suffering from "sleep inertia" after his nap and was "disoriented" when the plane began its descent.
The data recorders caught the sound of heavy nasal snoring and breathing, Hindustan Times said.
The co-pilot, H.S. Ahluwalia, is heard repeatedly warning Glusica to abort the landing and try the procedure again. The last words captured by the recorders as the plane crashed were those of one of the pilots saying, "Oh my God."
Glusica, a native of Serbia, had more than 10,200 hours of flying experience, while Ahluwalia had clocked in 3,650 hours.
There was no immediate comment on the report from the airline.
India's Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told reporters his ministry received the report Tuesday and the government would study it before taking any action.
The Mangalore crash was the deadliest in India since the November 1996 mid-air collision between a Saudi airliner and a Kazakh cargo plane near New Delhi that killed 349 people.
The report will add to growing concern worldwide about the dangers posed by exhausted pilots working taxing schedules. Pilot unions are fighting efforts by budget-strapped airlines to get them to work longer hours.
Over the past 15 years, about a dozen fatal crashes and numerous close calls have been blamed on pilot fatigue, a silent killer that was the key cause of one of the deadliest accidents in aviation history in 1997, when a Korean Air Boeing 747 headed to Guam plowed into a hillside and killed 228 people.
Studies show exhaustion can impair a pilot's judgment in much the same way alcohol does. It's not uncommon for overtired pilots to focus on a conversation or a single chore and miss other things going on around them, including critical flight information. In a few cases, they've just fallen asleep.
In June 2008, an Air India aircraft headed to Mumbai flew past its destination with both its fatigued pilots fast asleep in the cockpit. When the pilots were finally woken up by anxious Mumbai air traffic controllers, the plane, with about 100 passengers on board, was about 200 miles (320 kilometers) away.
Air traffic controllers in Mumbai finally used a special buzzer to awaken the pilots who then turned the aircraft around and made a safe landing.
In 2008 again, two go! airlines pilots in the United States were asleep for at least 18 minutes during a midmorning flight from Honolulu to Hilo, Hawaii, as their plane continued to cruise past its destination and out to sea. Air traffic controllers were finally able to raise the pilots, who turned around the plane with its 40 passengers and landed it safely. The airline is a Mesa Airlines subsidiary.
Regulators in both Europe and the United States are drafting proposals to shorten work hours at night and extend rest periods as a measure to prevent fatigue.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has proposed barring airlines from scheduling pilots to be on duty — a combination of being at work ready to fly or in the cockpit flying — longer than 13 hours in a 24-hour period, three hours less than current regulations. At night, that limit could slide to as few as nine hours.
Associated Press writer Slobodan Lekic contributed to this report.