22 December 2013

Mozambique: Plane Crash Deliberately Caused By Pilot

Photo: Embraer
A Mozambique Airlines aircraft of the type that crashed (file photo).

Maputo — The preliminary investigation into the crash of the Mozambique Airlines (LAM) Embraer-190 in northern Namibia on 29 November shows that the disaster was caused deliberately by the pilot, according to Joao de Abreu, chairperson of the regulatory body, the Mozambique Civil Aviation Institute (ICAM).

Abreu was speaking at a Maputo press conference on Saturday night, citing the preliminary report from the commission of inquiry, signed by the Namibian chief investigator, Theo Shilongo, and co-investigator Hafeni Mweshixwa.

The Embraer was on a scheduled flight from Maputo to Luanda. As the plane crossed Botswana, all was normal, with the plane cruising at 38,000 feet, and in good communication with the Gaborone control tower.

But the radar data showed that, at a obligatory reporting position over northern Botswana, the plane suddenly began a rapid descent. The control tower lost voice and radar contact with the Embraer, and set search operations in motion.

The wreckage of the plane was discovered the following day in the Bwabwata national part in Namibia. The “black box” flight recorders were recovered intact and sent to the United States National Transport Safety Board (NSTB) in Washington to be decoded and transcribed.

Reading out the statement from the investigating committee, Abreu said that the plane was flying normally, with no mechanical malfunction.

But a few minutes before the crash, the co-pilot went to the bathroom, leaving the pilot, Herminio dos Santos Fernandes, alone in the cockpit.

It was then that the altitude selector was manually altered three times, bringing the plane's altitude down from 38,000 feet to 592 feet. This happens to be below ground level at Bwambata. The throttle control was set to idling, but the velocity selector was operated manually several times, to bring the speed up to the Embraer's VMO (Maximum Operating Velocity).

The airbrake parameters showed that the aerodynamic resistance plates on the wings were deployed and held in that position to the end of the recording, again indicating manual operation.

These actions set off low and high intensity alarm signals which can be heard on the recording. Also plainly audible is repeated banging on the cockpit door.

The report does not say who was banging, but presumably the co-pilot was trying enter the cockpit, but found the door locked against him.

Abreu said all these operations required detailed knowledge of the plane's controls, and showed a clear intention to crash the aircraft.

He said it is not known why the pilot behaved in this way, and the investigations are continuing.

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