Airliner crash pilot 'had been asleep'

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The Independent Online

The pilot of an airliner that crashed on landing killing 158 people had only just woken up and was disoriented, a report found today.

Air India flight commander Zlatko Glusica's reactions were slow as he approached Mangalore airport, the government Court of Inquiry into the May 22 crash concluded.

The flight from Dubai overshot a hilltop runway, crashed and plunged over a cliff. Only eight people survived.

The inquiry examined information from the digital flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder of the aircraft, which were found at the crash site.

The panel said that 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.

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 one of the pilots saying, "Oh my God."

Glusica, a Serbian, had more than 10,200 hours of flying experience, while Ahluwalia had 3,650 hours.

India's Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said he had received the report and the government would study it before taking any action.

The Mangalore crash was the worst 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.

Studies show exhaustion can impair a pilot's judgment in much the same way alcohol does. It is not uncommon for tired pilots to focus on a conversation or a single task and miss other things going on around them, including critical flight information. In a few cases they have just fallen asleep.

In June 2008, an Air India aircraft headed to Mumbai flew past its destination with both its pilots fast asleep in the cockpit. When they were finally woken up by air traffic controllers, the plane, with about 100 passengers on board, was about 200 miles away.

Controllers had to use a special buzzer to wake 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 mid-morning flight from Honolulu to Hilo, Hawaii, as their plane continued to cruise past its destination and out to sea.

Air traffic was finally able to raise them pilots and they landed safely.