Air India Express flight 812: An investigation gone hauntingly wrong

By Jacob K Philip

On 22nd of this month, it will be one year after the tragic crash of Air India Express IX-812 at Mangalore that killed 158 people.
It seems the last major news break related to the accident was duly celebrated by the media with the submission of the investigation report by the Court of Inquiry (CoI) on 26 April 2011, 10 months after it was constituted. Thanks to the selective and somewhat precisely scheduled leaking of certain parts of the report to the press, now everyone is aware that the crash happened because the ‘Serbian’ commander of the aircraft was asleep for the first 100 minutes of the flight.
Though the relatives and dependents of more than 100 dead passengers are yet get compensation, the public already has accepted the crash as a well concluded story.

So there shouldn’t be much left to write an anniversary story.

But no news reporter who had followed the story from the beginning can leave it thus.

It never was something as simple as an expatriate pilot causing a horrific crash by simply sleeping at the controls.

There were many, many things the public was never properly made aware of, about the crash.
The incomplete, erroneous way the court of inquiry conducted the investigation too should have been laid bare before the people of India.

The aviation reporters of the country by now should already have asked themselves why the manufacturer of the crashed craft was never questioned or investigated.

The media should also have investigated Capt. Zlatco Glusica in his home country.

Air India Express and Air India the parent airline too were never sufficiently subjected to unbiased scrutiny of the mass media.

It was a phone call from a ‘law maker’, as they say, of the country, that made me to start worry about the whole business of the CoI which was appointed by the govt of India on 3 June 2010.

Soon after the CoI was constituted, three of the members of the CoI had flown to US to ‘decode’ the content of the two back boxes- the DFDR and CVR- at the facility of NTSB.

It was after two weeks of their return to India that I got the call.
That was in July.
He was very excited. He said one of the pilots had fallen asleep during the flight and his snoring and all was there in the CVR. Loud and clear.
That sure was news.
But I had to be sure. Okay, how he came to know about it? Well, that was simple.  It was a fellow lawmaker, who happened to own a major private airline who revealed that to him. One of the members of the CoI was an employee of that particular airline and after hearing the CVR in US, he right away told his boss all about the unbelievable content.

But the Associate Editor of the Daily where I was working was not that adventurous to print this explosive exclusive straightaway.

No proof- he calmly pointed out. So let us wait.

And our wait prolonged well in to first week of September 2010.
Coinciding with the second hearing of CoI at the national capital from September 6 to 9, this particular info was leaked to the press. All channels broke the news for the whole day. Dailies celebrated it on 8th.

Though many veteran pilots who testified in that session of the hearing¬† told the CoI that sleeping in the cockpit, was not that alarming or dangerous, that never was got prominently reported. Some commanders had even pointed out that it was a healthy practice for the pilots to sleep taking turns under ‘controlled conditions’. A little sleep would only raise the level of alertness.
On their part, the CoI too seemed to be agreeing with those observations. Many of the experts who attended the hearing too had noted that. It was a kind of reassurance for them that the investigation was proceeding in a scientific, unbiased manner.

But the fact remained that one of the members of the CoI who was pledged to secrecy, had way back revealed this sensitive info in a very callous manner to his boss who was the owner of rival airline of Air India Express.
And the way the ‘sleep news’ was planted in to selected national media too was reason to worry.
Especially because the taped conversation between the pilots of the aircraft and Mangalore ATC too had found it way to some media as early as June 2 , well before the CoI’s first hearing at Mangalore airport from August 17-19.

None could fail to notice that leaked content of both the tapes were highly incriminating Capt. Zlatco Glusica, the Commander of the crashed flight.

A pattern was beginning to emerge, for those who were closely watching the investigation.

(To be continued)

Jacob K Philip is Editor of Aviation India

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