The investigation commission of Nepal castigated Kathmandu Post yesterday, hours after the newspaper ran an exclusive report that blamed the pilot of the US-Bangla plane for the crash.
Citing investigation report, the newspaper claimed that pilot Abid Sultan was ”mentally stressed”, ”sleep deprived” and “reckless”.
“It is a matter of disgrace to publish such sensitive matter, which is still under investigation and discussion within the commission, without validating authenticity of the news from proper authority,” the Accident Investigation Commission of Nepal said in a statement.
“The commission believes that the accident investigation is not a matter for media propaganda. The commission has serious objection on such kind of unethical and fraudulent news which may give wrong conception and beliefs in the public and concerned people.”
It asked all not to make unnecessary speculations regarding the sensitive matter.
“The sole purpose of the Accident Investigation Commission is to find the probable cause and try to prevent further accident of similar nature in future.”
The probe is ongoing and the report is not complete, said the commission formed by the Nepalese government after the US-Bangla plane crashed in Tribhuvan International Airport on March 12.
The Kathmandu Post, which claimed to have a copy of the report, yesterday said Captain Abid was going through tremendous personal mental stress and anxiety, and a series of erroneous decisions on his part led to the crash of flight BS211.
The paper said the pilot was smoking inside the cockpit during the one-hour flight to Kathmandu from Dhaka and he was disoriented.
It said, “The investigation of the US-Bangla Flight 211 concluded that the ATC's [Air Traffic Control] handling of the flight was not a significant contributing factor to the crash. However, the report stated that some air traffic management procedural lapses were noted on the part of the crew at the control tower.”
Aviation experts in Bangladesh have raised questions about the motive behind the report, which blamed the pilot without touching on issues like the conversation between the ATC and the pilot.
The Kathmandu Post report was concocted, Chief of Aircraft Accident Investigation Group of Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) Captain Salahuddin M Rahmatullah told reporters at his Dhanmondi home yesterday.
A six-member delegation, led by Salahuddin, represents Bangladesh in the probe commission.
The Kathmandu Post published the news at a time when the investigation is halfway through and the commission is yet to formally make public any information about the probe.
“I didn't find any truth after going through it [the Kathmandu Post report],” said Salahuddin, also a former principal operations inspector (POI) appointed by the CAAB for US-Bangla Airlines.
“We have just started analysing the Cockpit Voice Recorder. We cannot come to any conclusion before completing the probe,” he said, adding that it could take four to five months to complete the probe. "There's no possibility of publishing it before December."
He said he had called the chairman and member-secretary of the commission and requested them to issue a rejoinder and take measures against the newspaper.
US-Bangla Airlines termed the Kathmandu Post report baseless and irreverent. There might be two reasons behind publishing of such a report before the official report. One is to defame the airlines concerned and its crew and the other is to hide the truth, the carrier said in a statement signed by Kamrul Islam, general manager (marketing support and public relations) of the airlines.
Apart from Bangladeshi and Nepalese officials, the investigation commission includes representatives from Bombardier, the Canadian maker of the plane, the UK-based engine supplier, officials of Transport Safety Board of Canada, and two psychiatrists. It started the decoding process of the plane's black boxes on April 23.
The plane carrying 67 passengers and four crew members burst into flames after missing the runway and crashing into a football pitch during its second landing attempt. The crash killed 27 Bangladeshis, 23 Nepalese and 1 Chinese. At least 20 passengers survived.
WHAT THE POST SAID
The Kathmandu Post quoting “Nepali investigators' report” said throughout the flight Capt Abid was erratic that marked a departure from his usual character, which should have immediately raised red flags.
It said the pilot demonstrated complacency and gross negligence of procedural discipline.
Six minutes prior to landing, he had confirmed that the plane's landing gear was down and locked. “Gears down, three greens [cockpit light indicating gears down and locked],” the pilot said, according to the Post.
However, when co-pilot Prithula Rashid conducted the final landing checklist and found the landing gears were not down, the paper claimed.
The Post claimed that the investigators said Abid had been smoking frequently during the flight. He had not disclosed to the airlines that he was a smoker, leading investigators to conclude that he was severely stressed in the cockpit.
The voice recorder had nearly an hour-long conversation between the captain and his co-pilot and it demonstrated Abid's tensed mood throughout the flight and a complete lack of situational awareness, it said.
The paper said the report showed that Captain Abid used profanity multiple times whilst talking about a co-pilot of US-Bangla who had questioned his reputation as an instructor, and their relationship was a major topic of discussion throughout the flight. He had said the co-pilot was the reason for his intent to leave US-Bangla.
“He also seemed to be fatigued and tired due to lack of sleep ... He was crying on several occasions,” the Post quoted what it claimed to be the commission's report.
Co-pilot of the flight Rashid was a passive listener throughout, it added.
“However, the report clarifies that Sultan did not exhibit any recurring mental issues during the medical examinations from 2002 to 2018.
'None of the medical reports that the committee reviewed from 2012 to 2017 mentioned any symptoms about depression,' the report said, adding that during his routine medical evaluations, he was declared fit and free from any symptoms of depression,” the Post read.
It claimed that Abid's medical records indicated inconsistent and unreliable responses about his smoking habit.
The Post gave an account of how the accident happened, a version the conversation inside the cockpit and that of between the cockpit and the ATC. It mentioned several times that the crew were disoriented and had lost sight of the runway.