Air India plane crash: 'Sleepy' pilot blamed

Aftermath of Air India plane crash in Mangalore on 22 May 2010
Image caption The passenger plane crash was India's first for 10 years

A dozing pilot was to blame for a plane crash in May in southern India which killed 158 people, an official investigation has reportedly found.

According to details of the report leaked to media, the Air India Express plane approached Mangalore at the wrong height and angle.

The Serbian pilot, Zlatko Glusica, was "disorientated" having been asleep for much of the three-hour flight.

The airline said it would not comment until the report's official release.

An Air India spokesperson, who did not want to be named, said: "The media has reported only on parts of the report.

"When we receive the full report, we will respond to the government of India."

According to the Hindustan Times, data recorders captured the sound of snoring.

Glusica is said to have been affected by "sleep inertia" after his nap.

Co-pilot H S Ahluwalia was reportedly heard making repeated warnings to the Serb to abort landing and try again.

'No runway left'

Seconds before the plane erupted into a fireball, voice recordings picked up the co-pilot saying: "We don't have runway left."

The Boeing 737 overshot, plunged into a steep gorge and burst into flames. Only eight people survived.

Most of the passengers on the low-cost flight from Dubai to Mangalore were Indian migrant workers returning from the Gulf.

India's Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told reporters his ministry had received the report on Tuesday and the government would study it before taking any action.

A government official who did not want to be named told the Associated Press news agency that Indian media reports about the findings were accurate.

But the investigation would only be made public once it had been presented to parliament.

Mr Glusica was said to have had 10,000 hours of flying time, including experience of Mangalore's airport.

The civil aviation minister noted at the time that Mangalore had a short landing strip which meant that there was limited space to accommodate planes that overshot.

The airliner missed its landing threshold by about 2,000ft (600m).

In June 2008, Air India denied reports that two of its pilots had been caught napping on the job.

A flight from Dubai allegedly passed its destination of Mumbai because both pilots were fast asleep in the cockpit.

Mumbai air traffic controllers had to use a special buzzer to rouse the pair, but by then the plane was halfway to Goa, according to the Times of India newspaper.

Once awakened, the pilots turned the aircraft around and made a safe landing.

India's air safety record has been good in the past decade, despite a rapid increase in the number of private airlines and air travel in the country.

The tragedy was the country's first major air crash since one in the eastern city of Patna killed at least 50 people in July 2000.

Mangalore's disaster was the deadliest since a mid-air collision in November 1996 between a Saudi airliner and a Kazakh cargo plane near Delhi, in which 349 people died.

Your comments

It is shocking that the pilot was in such a state while flying the plane. This raises many questions: Why was he allowed to fly the plane if he was so fatigued? Why did the co-pilot not take charge when he saw the pilot in this state, and inform the ATC (air traffic control) accordingly? Surely the airline is to blame for this, as they are using pilots who are exhausted and haven't trained the co-pilots well enough to handle such situations! Swaminathan, Bangalore, India

I'm amazed that the co-pilot allowed the drowsy pilot to land the plane. He should have taken control and landed the plane. More secure procedures need to be followed by the pilots for the safety of the passengers. Vipul, Srinagar, India

Simply shocking. The passengers trust that the air crew are competent enough to pilot the plane safely and that they are in a fit condition to do their job. Satya Jyothi, Bangalore, India

Once again we Indians only want to blame somebody for what's happened. The investigators of the accident should answer why it happened in addition to what happened. Pilot nodded off, but the question remains why did he fall asleep. If the purpose of the investigation is to find the actual cause of the accident and to avoid it in the future, we have to answer these questions rather than blaming the pilot for what happened. Sasi, Mumbai, India

At least the report and the inquiry about the ill-fated Air India Express flight is before us. The tragic end of the aircraft by human error reveals that man can be beaten if the machine created by man is not operated properly. The sleepy pilot is said to be responsible for it. But is this the end? Surely not. We still need to think seriously so that such tragic incidents are avoided and innocent people don't suffer such trauma. Muhd Shadab Khan, Basti, India

We Indians usually have very short memories. Debates and discussions crop up only for a few days after the accident. I remember during the days after this unfortunate accident, a lot of talk was directed towards upgrading airport infrastructure at Mangalore and across the country in general. However, we are yet to see the efforts towards such upgrades. It takes a tragedy to open our eyes and it takes another tragedy to shut our eyes for the earlier one. Ashish Pradhan, Mumbai, India

This problem of sleepy pilots is endemic throughout the airline industry, as airlines try to squeeze more and more work out of their workforce. It is nothing short of criminal that the transport sector in Europe is excluded from the EU working time directives, and we are regularly on a 55 hour week. With start and finish times so early and late, a common phrase I hear at work on the flight deck is how tired the other guy is! And all for the cause of a £5 ticket (plus tax) to somewhere. It may be cheap to buy - but is it good value? What is your life worth? Tired Pilot, UK

Why is the pilot getting all the blame? What did the co-pilot do? He was obviously aware of the situation - he was screaming about it. He must have been sitting half a metre from a snoring pilot and didn't do anything about it. Didn't take command. How could he avoid noticing that they were landing? You have to report to the ATC far ahead - there's no way around it. The co-pilot is capable of landing, and still he did nothing. Was he asleep too? Was the ATC asleep? Mangalore's short runway has nothing to do with it. JS, Stockholm, Sweden

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