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Listen to ATC and Always Keep an Eye on Your Instruments

in Aviation Blog, Flight Safety

Submitted by an anonymous user.

You must have come across a very popular adage among many pilots that says, “There are old pilots and then there are bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots”. Well there are always exceptions to almost everything in this world; if there were no bold pilots to take the first step into the unknown and pioneer mastering new technologies, we would perhaps still be driving horse-carts. The basic idea here is not to curtail initiative; rather it is to keep the safety factors in mind when dealing with anything related to aviation. The established set of safety principles should never be violated; these rules have been crafted after thorough research, and are based on experience through real occurrences.

One such universal principle in flying is to ‘believe your instruments’. This in fact is one of the very first things taught to an under trainee pilot. I will narrate an unfortunate incident that happened some time ago, only because a very senior and seasoned pilot chose to ignore the principle about believing the instruments. A private airliner jet crashed near Islamabad airport in Pakistan in 2010.

The official summary about the incident says,

“ABQ-202, mishap aircraft A-321, AP-BJB, on 28 July 2010, operated by Airblue was scheduled to fly a domestic flight sector Karachi – Islamabad. The aircraft had 152 persons on board, including six crewmembers. The Captain of aircraft was Captain Pervez Iqbal Chaudhary. Mishap aircraft took-off from Karachi at 0241 UTC (0741 PST) for Islamabad. At time 0441:08, while executing a circling approach for RWY-12 at Islamabad, it flew into Margalla Hills, and crashed at  a distance of 9.6 NM, on a radial 334 from Islamabad VOR. The aircraft was completely destroyed and all souls on board the aircraft,sustained fatal injuries.”

The captain had more than 25000 flying hours logged to his credit to go with a 30 plus years of incident and accident free career. While a lengthy investigation followed the accident and came out with voluminous documentation based on the findings, the crash was termed as a case of CFIT or Controlled Flight Into Terrain. The investigators found that the terrain proximity warning system “EGPWS” was active and warned the cockpit crew of ‘terrain ahead’ several times before the crash actually happened; even the radar controllers warned the aircraft and advised the crew to initiate a turn. The captain ignored all instructions and continued his flight announcing that he was visual with the ground and terrain, and ultimately realized too late that he was about to hit a mountain. The last ditch evasive maneuvers to gain height and turn the plane away from the high terrain were of no use, and the poor aircraft crashed.

One of the findings in the investigations is:

“During last 70 seconds from crash, despite calls from ATS and the EGPWS sounding 21 times as Terrain ahead including 15 times for pull up, the Captain continued to take the aircraft on its fatal journey. “

The finalization statement by the crash investigation team terms this crash as a case of CFIT, where the crew failed to demonstrate professional skills and better judgment in a self-created unsafe environment. In their desire to land in bad weather, they let go of flying discipline and committed serious procedural and operational breaches.

There are many more aspects of this unfortunate accident but only if the Captain had not chosen to ignore the ground proximity warnings on his EGPWS, perhaps the ill-fated aircraft could have been saved. The very basics of the rules are sometimes the most important of all, and one should always take care not to ignore the universal rules for safer flying. This accident is a reminder to all of us, related to the aviation business that while it is good be confident of one’s abilities and perceptions, it is always advisable to have faith in your instruments unless you have a very valid reason for not doing so. While a known faulty instrument may be disregarded and that too after cross checking other related instruments, ignoring functioning instruments and warnings can be very dangerous at times. Fly safe and many happy landings.


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