Maputo — Mozambican aviation accident investigator, Antonio Alves Gomes, has challenged the widely held belief that the Mozambique Airlines (LAM) flight from Maputo to Luanda on 29 November crashed because the pilot, Herminio dos Santos Fernandes, committed suicide.
The aircraft, an Embraer 190 of Brazilian manufacture, came down in the Bwambata national park, in northern Namibia, killing all 33 people on board.
Interviewed by the independent television station STV, Gomes, who is deputy chairperson for aviation matters in the Confederation of Mozambican Business Associations (CTA), said he had analysed the preliminary report on the crash, comparing it with the Embraer manual, and had interviewed other pilots and doctors.
Gomes was not convinced by the claim in the preliminary report from the official inquiry that there was "a clear intention" to crash the plane. On the contrary, his conclusion was "nothing proves that the captain intended to commit suicide".
Gomes said that the procedures followed by the captain with regard to the altitude selector, the throttle, the velocity selector and the airbrake parameters are all contained in the Embraer manual.
"It is obligatory to carry out these manoeuvres when there is an emergency descent", Gomes said. "Everything that the pilot did coincides exactly with what is in the manual". These procedures are made when using flight simulators, and without the aid of the manual - in other words, Embraer pilots must learn them off by heart.
Once the descent had begun "the pilot didn't do anything abnormal". The real question then was - "why did he begin an emergency descent?"
Gomes pointed to one serious anomaly in the preliminary report. It said that the altitude selector was manually altered three times, bringing the plane's altitude down from 38,000 feet to 592 feet below ground level. But if an altitude below ground level is fed into the Embraer automatic pilot, it does not accept it. "There's something very strange here", sad Gomes. "The Commission of Inquiry should have explained how it deduced this negative altitude".
One very real irregularity was that the captain began the descent alone in the cockpit, when the manual states that these procedures must always be accompanied by other members of the crew. Apparently the co-pilot had gone to the bathroom: but standard procedure, in airlines across the globe, is that, when this happens, the chief steward is called into the cockpit. Gomes believed this norm is widely violated.
The report mentions banging on the cockpit door, as if someone (believed to be the co-pilot) was trying to enter. But Gomes pointed out that there are mechanisms for opening the Embraer door both from the inside and from the outside.
Gomes concluded that members of the Commission of Inquiry had not read the Embraer manual.