Airblue Flight 202
|Date||28 July 2010|
|Summary||Controlled flight into terrain due to pilot error|
|Site||Margalla Hills, Pakistan
|Aircraft type||Airbus A321-231|
|Flight origin||Jinnah International Airport, Karachi, Pakistan|
|Destination||Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Islamabad, Pakistan|
Airblue Flight 202 was a scheduled domestic passenger flight which crashed on 28 July 2010 near Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, killing all 146 passengers and six crew on board. It is the deadliest air accident to occur in Pakistan to date. The aircraft, an Airblue operated Airbus A321-231 narrow-body jet airliner, crashed in the Margalla Hills north of Islamabad during a flight from Karachi's Jinnah International Airport to Benazir Bhutto International Airport. Air traffic controllers reportedly lost contact with the flight crew during its attempt to land in dense fog and heavy monsoon rain.
The accident was the first fatal crash involving an Airbus A321, a long variant of the Airbus A320 family of short to medium range airliners. Based in Islamabad, Airblue is Pakistan's second largest airline, with over 30% share of the domestic market. At the time of the accident the airline operated seven aircraft, all in the A320 family.
The aircraft that crashed was an Airbus A321-231, registered AP-BJB, manufacturer's serial number 1218, which was built in 2000. This was the first fatal crash for the A321, and the second hull-loss of the type. The aircraft had originally been delivered to Aero Lloyd and used by Aero Flight before being taken up by Airblue in 2006. It had accumulated approximately 34,000 flight hours in some 13,500 flights.
The flight left Karachi at 07:50 local time (01:50 UTC). Initial reports suggested that flight controllers at Benazir Bhutto International Airport lost contact with the aircraft at 09:43 local time (03:43 UTC)  after they delayed its landing 13 minutes earlier. It was reported that the poor weather had forced controllers to divert another aircraft attempting to land 30 minutes before the crash.
The aircraft approached Islamabad from the southeast, following a procedure that required it to fly toward the airport until making visual contact. It was then to have flown around the airport to the east and north, keeping within a distance of 5 nmi (9.3 km), until lining up with runway 12, which faces toward the southeast. The aircraft crashed in the mountains outside the 5 nmi (9.3 km) radius, approximately 8 nmi (15 km) north of the airport, facing almost due west, before it could line up with runway 12 for final approach.
While the BBC reported that officials stated that "there was nothing in conversations between the pilot and the Islamabad control tower that suggests anything was wrong", The New York Times gave an account of communications between the aircraft and the ground that indicated otherwise. The newspaper claimed that the pilots were warned that they were flying away from the runway, to which the pilot responded “I can see”. The controller then told the flight crew to “immediately turn left, Margalla [Hills] are ahead”, before the pilot again replied “we can see it”. Multiple EGPWS "TERRAIN AHEAD" warnings were recorded on the Cockpit Voice Recorder starting 40 seconds before the crash. The first officer was also heard requesting to the captain "Sir turn left, Pull Up Sir. Sir pull Up." This was the first controlled flight into terrain accident since 2002, when all planes with more than six passengers became required to have an advanced terrain awareness warning system.
An airline official stated that the pilots did not send any emergency signals prior to the crash. Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik stated that the plane was at 2,600 feet (790 m) as it approached Islamabad but went back up to 3,000 feet (910 m) before eventually crashing. The altitude of 2,600 feet (790 m) was above the safe minimum descent altitude (2,510 feet (770 m) above sea level, or 852 feet (260 m) above ground level) had the aircraft remained within the 5 nmi (9.3 km) radius of the airport.
One witness on the ground, who was out walking, stated that "the plane had lost balance, and then we saw it going down". Others described the plane as being lower than it should have been. "I wondered why the plane wasn't flying higher as it was flying towards the hill", one stated. "Then within three or four minutes I heard a loud explosion". Another said that "it was raining. I saw the plane flying very low from the window of my office". Imran Abbasi told The New York Times that he "could tell it was trouble because it stayed so low even though the mountains were up ahead". He stated that the jet was "flying as low as a four-story building". It was reported that Mr. Abbasi said that "as the aircraft started to turn, the right side of its front banged into the highest mountain, emitting an instant billow of blue fire and black smoke".
The plane was found near Daman-e-Koh viewing point in the Margalla Hills outside Islamabad. The Los Angeles Times reported that "television footage of the crash site showed smoke and burning debris strewn in a swath cutting through the forest. Rescue helicopters hovered overhead. Fire was visible, and smoke was blowing up from the scene."
The weather conditions before the accident, as detailed by the 03:00 UTC METAR (aviation routine weather observation message) report for Benazir Bhutto International Airport, were as follows: Wind from 50° (approximately north east) at 16 knots (30 km/h). Visibility 2 kilometres (1.2 mi), rain, few clouds at 1,500 feet (460 m), few clouds at 3,000 feet (910 m) with towering cumulus. Scattered clouds at 4,000 feet (1,200 m), broken clouds at 10,000 feet (3,000 m). Temperature 24°C, dewpoint 23°C. QNH 1006.5 hPa.A
Passengers and crew
Early reports in the morning had stated that there were over 40 injured survivors, later revised at around midday to around five to six people having been rescued, before Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed in the afternoon that there were in fact no survivors. Pakistani footballer Misha Dawood, 19, of Diya Football Club, Karachi, and former national athlete Zafar Saleem, who was director-general of the Sindh Workers Welfare Board, were killed in the crash.
The sixty-two-year-old captain of Flight 202, Pervez Iqbal Chaudhry, had 35 years and more than 25,000 hours of flying experience, with an unblemished flight safety record. The comparatively junior first officer (Sqn Ldr) Muntajib Ahmed, a former F-16 Pakistan Air Force fighter pilot, had logged one year of experience on the Airbus A321 aircraft. Of the passengers, 110 were men, 29 were women, 5 were children, and 2 were infants. Six members of the Youth Parliament of Pakistan were on board  as were three off duty air hostesses, and four foreign nationals.
Nationalities of passengers
A local police official stated that he had reports "that the plane fell into the Margalla Hills. There is smoke, but we have not been able to reach there. It is surrounded by the hills and there is no road access". An army helicopter arrived to survey the crash site at 10:30 local time (04:30 UTC) but was not able to land. All 152 passengers have been confirmed dead; initially there had been conflicting reports about survivors being airlifted to nearby hospitals. However, they were later proven to be wrong. All hospitals in Islamabad were declared in a state of emergency.
One person present at the scene of the crash stated that the passengers "are badly mutilated and burnt ... and there are two women among the dead". He told journalists that "a good number of rescue workers have reached the site. Other people have reached here on their own. The plane is totally destroyed. The pieces and parts scattered over a large distance. Some parts of the plane are still burning. Some bushes have been burnt." It was reported that rescuers at the crash site were "digging through the rubble with their bare hands." A senior city government official stated that the rescue operation was "very difficult ... because of the rain. Most of the bodies are charred. We're sending body-bags via helicopters."
It was reported, however, that the rescue operation was "chaotic". BBC journalist Zeesha Zafar reported that "there were fewer rescue workers there than one would have expected. A majority of them were members of the anti-terrorism police. Most of them just stood around, gazing at the burning debris, and looking as though there was not much that they could do." He stated that a police officer threatened to baton charge rescuers if they did not "move quickly". Zafar reported that "just when the rescuers were shuffling to get to work, a policeman in plain clothes announced that an army helicopter was coming in to pour water on the fire, and that everyone should get out of the way. The work stopped. The helicopter came, circled on the spot a couple of times, and went away. No water." Zafar went on that it "was distinctly obvious that there was no co-ordination between the workers of different departments such as the police, the rescue department, the Capital Development Authority and the military ... Rescuers operated in a chaotic manner, scouring through the debris that was not on fire ... During the two hours that I stayed at the scene, I saw rescuers collect three separate loads of body parts which they tied up in shrouds. There was no telling how many people they belonged to."
A statement on Airblue's website stated that "Airblue, with great sadness, announces the loss of flight ED 202 inbound from Karachi to Islamabad. The flight crashed during poor weather and thick fog. We regret the loss of life and are investigating the exact circumstances of this tragedy. This will be presented as soon as possible." The statement continued that "our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew." The compensation estimation process for the victims by Airblue's insurer began on 30 July 2010, with initial estimates of Rs 1,000,000 (USD$11,695) per victim.
Both the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani sent condolences to the family of those who died in the accident. The Pakistani government declared 29 July 2010 would be a national day of mourning and announced compensation of Rs 500,000 ($5,847) to the family of every victim. U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement confirming that two Americans had been on the flight and expressing condolences and stated that "our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those touched by this horrible accident". The Air Blue management decided that a monument would be built with the names of the victims inscribed onto it to honor the dead.
The Civil Aviation Authority immediately launched an investigation into the accident. Airbus stated that they would provide full technical assistance to Pakistani authorities. A six member Airbus team, headed by Nicolas Bardou, the company's director of flight safety, arrived in Islamabad on 29 July 2010.
There was some initial confusion regarding whether the aircraft's flight recorders had been located. At first reports suggested they were found hours after the accident, but officials stated they had not been recovered. The recorders were located on 31 July, when Junaid Ameen, the director-general of the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority, told the Associated Free Press that "the investigating committee found the black box from the Margalla Hills this morning ... the black box was found from the bulk of the wreckage of the crashed plane." He stated that the box would be examined by "foreign experts" in Germany or France as Pakistan does not possess the equipment to decode the flight recorders. He also stated that the process of extracting information may take six months to a year. The Pakistani authorities decided to send the CVR and FDR to the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA) in France.
The report issued by Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority in November 2011 cited a lack of professionalism in the cockpit crew along with poor weather as primary factors in the crash. In particular, the report noted that the captain ignored or did not properly respond to a multitude of Air Traffic Control directives and automated cabin warning systems. The report also claimed that the first officer passively accepted the captain's actions, after the captain on multiple occasions took a "harsh, snobbish and contrary" tone with the first officer and "berated" him.
Representatives of family members of passengers on the flight questioned the validity of the report and the qualifications of those who carried out the investigation.
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- Note: The previous reference was based upon an expired approach procedure chart (approach plate) reprinted and examined in the article. Until this can be verified with the approach plate that was valid at the time of the accident, this interpretation should be viewed with some caution.
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|Wikinews has related news:|
- "ABQ 202." Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (Archive)
- Airblue website
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- "Passenger list for ABQ-202". The Times of India. 28 July 2010. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
- Lucky escape for 12 would-be passengers (all are on The Times of India list of 158 passengers)
- The last words of victims of Airblue flight ED 202 (collected from Facebook)
- BBC Urdu