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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Financial Director / FD / Senior Finance Manager

Up to 70k DOE: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Financial Director ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Production Planner is require...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Luton - £24,000

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst vacancy with a we...

Recruitment Genius: Instructional Training Designer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic and interes...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen