THE INDIAN AIR CRASH: Tapes point blame at Kazakh pilot

Officials blame poor English for disaster at 14,000ft

The mid-air plane crash over northern India, which killed 351 people on Tuesday night, may have been caused by pilot error, according to Indian authorities.

Indian aviation officials yesterday released excerpts of the taped conversation between New Delhi's control tower and the pilots of the Saudia Airlines jumbo jet and the Kazakh Airways Ilyushin charter plane which collided in darkness at 14,000ft. There were no survivors, but two passengers from the Saudi flight survived the crash, still strapped to their seats, only to die soon after of internal injuries.

The tapes, according to Indian officials, prove that both pilots acknowledged receiving instructions from air controllers to fly at varying heights. The Saudi flight, bound to Dharan and Jeddah, was cleared to fly at 14,000ft, while the Kazakh aircraft, headed for New Delhi, was ordered to descend no lower than 15,000ft.

"We've had bad experiences with these pilots from the former Soviet Union," said one senior official at Delhi airport. "They don't speak English very well. When we ask them to repeat the instructions we've just given them, a lot of times they say `Roger' and then turn off their radios."

In the transcript, the Kazakh pilot reports in at 15,000ft and is told: "Roger, maintain level 150 [15,000ft]. Identified traffic 12 o'clock reciprocal. Saudi Boeing 747, 14 miles. Report in sight."

The Kazakh pilot: "Report how many miles?"

Control tower: "14 miles now. Roger. Traffic in 13 miles, level 140 (14,000 feet)."

A minute later the controller watched, horrified, as two green blips on his radar converged and vanished off the radar screen.

Indian air controllers also complained that pilots from the former Soviet Union sometimes confuse their calculations because they are accustomed to using the metric system to calibrate altitude and distances, while all other countries use nautical miles and feet.

However, according to one air consultant, Rashid Jung, "plane crashes occur not because of one error but because of many factors". Searchers picking through the smouldering wreckage of the two planes, which crashed to earth six miles from each other, yesterday located the two black boxes which may reveal more details.

Some airline experts claim that over the past three years, New Delhi's air traffic has increased by 20 per cent, and the control tower is often left to juggle take-offs and landings with out-dated equipment. Some experts suggested that New Delhi's approach radar unit lacked sophisticated monitoring devices, common now to most international airports, which not only track an aircraft but also give its exact altitude.

It is also common practice for controllers to route incoming and outgoing aircrafts along different "lanes" in the sky. But because of the Indian air force's stringent controls over civil air traffic, the western route into New Delhi - connecting the capital to the Gulf and Europe - serves for aircraft that are both taking off and landing.

Relatives of the crash victims arrived at the dusty village of Charkhi Dadri yesterday, 60 miles west of Delhi, to try to identify the remains of their loved ones. It was a gruesome, thankless task. Most of the Saudia passengers were Indian workers, but there was one Briton - Karen McCoy, 26, from Birmingham.

Karen's father, Michael, 55, speaking from the family's home in Northfield, Birmingham, said his daughter had gone to work in Saudi Arabia as a nurse 13 months ago. She had written home to her father and her step-mother Enid, 63, also a nurse, just a month ago to tell them she was planning a two-week holiday in India.

Mr McCoy said: "When I saw it on the news I just knew that she was on board. We rang the airline but they could not confirm the passenger list but then the police called at 11.30pm last night and told us that she had gone through customs."

Aside from such things as a shoe or a wallet strewn in the wreckage, there was nothing left to identify the bodies. Even still, the numbed relatives wandered through the debris with sheets and pieces of cloth to drape over the scattered remains. None of the police or searchers had bothered with such decorum.

Local residents said they were sure the pilot of the jumbo averted an even worse disaster by steering his blazing aircraft away from their villages.

The United News of India quoted witnesses in a nearby village as saying the aeroplane turned away from their houses just before it crashed.

"I strongly felt that the pilot tried to save the people," Karan Singh, was quoted as saying in Dahni Phabot village. "We had a miraculous escape."

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits