Pilots of a Jet Airways Doha-Cochin flight made a “blind landing” in Thiruvananthapuram on August 17 last year, risking the lives of 150 passengers and crew, as bad weather prevented them from seeing the runway, an investigation found.
The dangerous landing could have had disastrous consequences, says the final investigation report that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation submitted to the government last week.
They could have diverted the flight to a safe airport, instead of attempting to land in bad weather, an official said.
The report, that Hindustan Times has access to, gives details of what went on in the cockpit as the pilots of flight 9W-555 declared “May Day” and managed to land only in the seventh attempt after doing an unprecedented six go-arounds — a flight path taken by an aircraft after an aborted approach to land — in two airports.
“Do you know where it (runway) is?” the first officer is heard asking in the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) as the pilots made a seventh attempt to land.
“Just going blindly,” the captain replied.
The captain was demoted to the rank of co-pilot after the incident, which is classified as “serious”. The pilots didn’t respond to attempts for their comments.
The Boeing 737 was left with just 349kg of fuel when it finally landed, burning most of the fuel during the six go-arounds. An aircraft can consume up to 100-150kg of fuel during taxiing itself.
Had the pilots gone for another go-around, the plane would have crashed because there was not enough fuel left, officials said.
When the Jet flight reached Cochin airspace it had 4,844kg of fuel. It made three attempts to land in Cochin, but could not make visual contact with the runway and the fuel went down to 4,699kg, 3,919kg and 2,644kg in each attempt.
The minimum diversion fuel for Bengaluru, the designated alternative airport, was 3,306 kg. That forced the crew to head to nearby Thiruvananthapuram.
In the first approach — fourth of the flight — in Thiruvananthapuram, the pilots again did a go-around. With just 1,324kg fuel left, they declared “May Day”. After the fifth and sixth attempts, fuel was down to 898kg and 662kg.
“The aircraft took a 180-degree turn at very low height setting off the alarms,” said an official.
“The manoeuvre activated the enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS), which warned repeatedly, ‘Terrain, terrain pull up’,” the report says.
But the captain continued the approach, ignoring all warnings and no visual contact of the runway, to finally land on the seventh attempt. An absence of company policy on how many approaches a pilot is allowed in inclement weather caused the incident, the report says.
A Jet Airways spokesperson said: “While the airline took all possible measures, including adequate fuel, inclement weather created a situation which demanded that the pilots apply all their skills and training to ensure a safe landing.”