Leaked report fuels anger over Air India crash

The airline has come under fire from relatives of the 158 victims who perished in the Mangalore disaster after an investigation showed the pilot was "half asleep" while trying to land the plane on a mountaintop runway.

ABU DHABI // Relatives of victims of the Mangalore air disaster reacted with anger yesterday after a leaked investigation report revealed that the pilot was half asleep when the plane crashed.

Zlatko Glusica slept through more than half of the three-hour flight from Dubai on May 22 and was heard snoring on the flight data recorder, the investigation found.

It said the crash happened because he was sleepy and disorientated, approached the runway incorrectly, overshot the touchdown point and then tried to take off again.

The Air India Express Boeing 737 broke through the boundary walls of the hilltop Mangalore Bajpe airport and plunged into a valley, killing 158 people. Only eight survived. Most of the dead worked in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

"It's like a bad joke," said Santosh Rai, who lives in Dubai and lost his wife, 10-year-old son and nine-month-old daughter in the crash. "It's like a bad Hindi film, I can't even talk about it."

P Ranganath, a retired bank employee who lives in Mangalore, and whose sister and brother-in-law and their 11-year-old daughter were killed in the crash, said: "We are outraged that the pilot may not have been given enough rest. One of the reasons for the crash is almost confirmed now. There must be more control over the airline. We are outraged."

He said relatives of those who lost loved ones would join in protesting to the airline and the government.

"What has happened should not be repeated," Mr Ranganath said. "My people are gone, they will not come back. But this should never happen again. Being a public sector institution, this should not happen. They should have more concern about the people travelling on their airline, and for their employees."

The crash investigation found that the pilot was suffering from "sleep inertia" after his nap and was "disorientated" when the plane began its descent. The flight data recorders caught the sound of heavy nasal snoring and breathing during the flight.

Despite warnings from the co-pilot, HS Ahluwalia, the pilot attempted to take off after touchdown, with only 244 metres of tarmac left of the 2.4-kilometre runway.

"We don't have runway left," Ahluwalia said, one of the repeated warnings recorded in the cockpit.

The last words captured by the recorders as the plane crashed were those of one of the pilots saying: "Oh, my God."

Glusica, from Serbia, had more than 10,200 hours of flying experience, and Mr Ahluwalia had clocked 3,650 hours.

Air India set up the six-member court of inquiry to investigate the country’s first major crash since 2000. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation and Boeing, the manufacturers of the two-year-old plane, were part of the investigation team.

The panel filed a report on Tuesday to the Indian civil aviation ministry detailing findings gathered from the aircraft’s digital flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder.

The report was leaked to an Indian newspaper, and unnamed Indian government officials confirmed the leak was accurate, but incomplete. The full report will be made public once it is presented to the Indian parliament. No date has been set.

Air India authorities have denied that the pilot was asleep. They said only parts of the confidential report had been released, which misrepresented the entire findings.

“The pilot can’t have been sleeping, whatever the press says,” said Chandrakumar Shekhar, Air India's general manager of public relations. “Parts of the report have been selectively leaked out. The court of inquiry report will be submitted to the government and the government will take action on it.”

Rafeeq Eroth, the president of the Malabar Pravasi Co-ordination Council, which is helping families co-ordinate compensation claims, said the report strengthened the belief that the blame lay with the airline.

* With additional reporting from the Associated Press