Pilots in Pakistan plane crash were distracted by coronavirus worries, minister says

The pilots of a Pakistan airliner that crashed last month were having a discussion about coronavirus while preparing for their first failed attempt to land, the country’s aviation minister has said.

Ninety-seven people died when the Airbus A320 of Pakistan International Airlines crashed on 22 May in the southern city of Karachi.

It came down just over half a mile short of the runway on its second try, leaving two survivors.

Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan told parliament on Wednesday that the engines of the aircraft had touched the ground as it landed without its wheels on the first attempt, before taking off again.

The flight data showed the landing gear was lowered at 10 nautical miles but then raised again five nautical miles from the runway, which Mr Khan described as “beyond comprehension”.

He said the aircraft was “100% fit to fly” and there was no technical fault, and that the pilots were not “focused” because of the pandemic.

“The discussion throughout was about corona,” Mr Khan said, referring to a conversation between the pilot and co-pilot he had listened to on the cockpit voice recorder.

“Corona was dominant over their mind. Their family was affected.”

The report did not spell out the pilots’ conversation on the virus, but noted they did not follow set protocols.

“Several warnings and alerts such as over-speed, landing gear not down and ground proximity alerts, were disregarded,” the report added.

“The landing was undertaken with the landing gear retracted. The aircraft touched the runway surface on its engines.”

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