A case that was settled eight months before the verdict

Air India Express flight 812: An investigation gone hauntingly wrong-III

By Jacob K Philip

It was three months after the Air India Express crash that killed 158 people that the Court of Inquiry (CoI) appointed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation interviewed the survivors of the crash.
They were questioned during the first public hearing of the CoI held during August 17 to 19 at Mangalore Airport old terminal.
Of the 8 survivors, six had reached the airport to appear before the CoI, on getting summons.

The questioning of all the six was along the same line.
There were queries regarding the behaviour of the cockpit as well as cabin crew during the flight, about the possibility of excess luggage on board etc.
Those questions were obviously as per the following rules of the Manual of Accident/ incident investigation

Rule 9.15.2

….The crew histories should cover their overall experience, their
activities, especially during the 72 hours prior to the occurrence, and their behavior during the events leading up to the occurrence.

Rule 9.15.4:

.. Since weight balance and load are critical factors that affect aircraft stability and control….. It will be necessary to check flight manual load data sheets, fuel records, freight and passenger documentation to arrive at a final estimate. Elevator trim settings may give a clue to the center of gravity at the time of the occurrence.

But one of the questions that put forward to all the six survivors was really perplexing and alarming.

Do you think the accident occurred because of the fault of the pilot?

What kind of an answer was the CoI expecting?
What if the answer was “no”? Would the CoI would have decided to believe them and furthered the investigation along that line?
And what if the replies were in affirmative? Could they have used it as a supporting fact in the final report while putting the blame on the pilot?
We know the answer.

Then what actually was the purpose of the question?

It could have been only to give a preconceived idea to the witness; only to create an atmosphere conducive enough where the guilty-pilot-theory readily accepted.
The very question was also in plain violation of the Manual of Accident/ incident investigation.

Rule 7.2.1

The investigation of aircraft accidents and incidents has to be strictly objective and totally impartial and must also be perceived to be so.

The selective leaking of the relevant portions of the ATC tapes and CVR that put the blame squarely on the Commander of the aircraft as well as the first officer may be read along with this.

The total disregard by the CoI, from the very beginning, of the option of exploring the possibility of a faulty aircraft was also in perfect harmony with this.

Making available the whole content of the black boxes- CVR & DFDR- to the representatives of Boeing Company (manufacturers of the crashed aircraft) days before them testifying before the Court of Inquiry was also in tune with that particular scheme of things.
Imagine a situation where, one of the accused in a murder case appearing before the court after studying very well the case diary supplied by the police themselves.
And try to visualize also the situation where the respondents of the same case are being lead by the judges along predetermined paths where they are coerced into blaming some one particular.
(To be continued)

Jacob K Philip is Editor of Aviation India

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