Investigators: Gulf Air Pilot Failed to Slow Plane during Landing Attempts
The pilot of a Gulf Air plane that crashed into the sea off Bahrain, killing all 143 people aboard, failed to slow down during his landing attempts or gain altitude afterward, despite warnings from his co-pilot and cockpit alarms that the plane was flying too fast, investigators were quoted by The Associated Press as saying.
The actions described by investigators indicated the crew was having trouble controlling the plane and that it appeared to have increased rather than reduced its speed after the warnings.
These problems could be attributed to the control systems, the crew's abilities or a combination of both, according to Jim Burnett, a US aviation expert not involved in the probe, said the agency.
Frank Hilldrup, a US National Transportation Safety Board expert appointed by Bahrain as chief investigator into the August 23rd crash, told reporters Monday night that it was too early to say whether pilot error caused the Airbus 320 to nosedive into shallow Gulf waters.
Hilldrup, citing information from the flight data and cockpit voice recorders that were analyzed by the NTSB in Washington, described the final few minutes of Flight 072.
Air Traffic Control at the Bahrain International Airport told captain Ihsan Shakeeb to "climb 2,500 feet" after the pilot called off his initial landing approach and requested a go-around, said the AP.
After Shakeeb's second aborted attempt to land, Hilldrup said "the first officer stated 'over speed limit.’"
Within seconds, the flight data recorder indicated forward movement of the captain's side stick, which put the aircraft into a rapid descent, Hilldrup said.
The plane's speed increased beyond 212 mph at 1,000 feet, setting off the continuous chiming of the aircraft's Master Warning system.
Soon, a ground-proximity alarm went off that Hilldrup said gave a warning - "whoop-whoop, pull up" - an indication the plane was in acute danger. The pilot, he said, tried to increase altitude by pulling back on his stick, but Hilldrup said the "pull up" warning lasted to the end of the recording.
The plane's last recorded speed was about 322 mph, Hilldrup said.
Because of varying factors such as air conditions, and the plane's weight and size, authorities would not say what a proper landing approach speed would be.
"The entire data is still viewed as preliminary," he said. "It will take time to validate this data. ...We don't want to prejudge things."
The boxes, Hilldrup said, also showed that Shakeeb was the pilot flying the aircraft, that the auto-pilot was disconnected on final approach and that the remainder of the flight was flown manually, added the AP.
Ibrahim al-Hamer, Bahrain's Undersecretary for Civil Aviation who serves as chairman of the investigating committee, said it was premature to express opinions on this case.
However, he said that air traffic controllers had done their job and it is "the pilot's responsibility" to safely land the plane.
Neither Hilldrup nor al-Hamer would comment on the crew's last words; a transcript of the voice cockpit recording was not released and investigators said they were still working on precise timings based on the information contained in the recorders.
"The whole scenario indicates that the crew were having difficulty controlling the airplane," Burnett, a former NTSB chairman, said in a telephone interview from Little Rock, Ark. "Whether that arises from control systems or the training of the crew I don't know, but it could be a combination of both." - Albawaba.com
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