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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

Lapses caused Pawan Hans crash: Report

The Dauphin SA365N3 helicopter operated by state-owned Pawan Hans Limited was flying towards an oil rig on Bombay High when it crashed into the Arabian sea around 30 nautical miles off the Mumbai coast. Both pilots and five officials of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) who were on the copter were killed.

india Updated: Sep 27, 2019 01:36 IST
Neha LM Tripathi
Neha LM Tripathi
Mumbai
Debris recovered so far of he Pawan Hans helicopter carrying seven people, including five senior Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) officials, which crashed off Mumbai’s coast .
Debris recovered so far of he Pawan Hans helicopter carrying seven people, including five senior Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) officials, which crashed off Mumbai’s coast .(Hindustan Times)
         

A pilot disoriented by the altitude, poor communication between him and the co-pilot and a malfunctioning autopilot that hadn’t been set right although a test flight indicated a problem with the system caused the January 12, 2018 Pawan Hans helicopter crash that left seven people dead, a probe by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) has found.

Capt. Ramesh Ohatkar, who went into spatial disorientation - inability to interpret attitude – in poor visibility, did not allow the co-pilot VC Katoch to take control of the chopper, according to the AAIB report on the accident exclusively accessed by the Hindustan Times. This and the malfunctioning automatic flight control system (AFCS) – also called the autopilot - caused the accident, the report said.

The Dauphin SA365N3 helicopter operated by state-owned Pawan Hans Limited was flying towards an oil rig on Bombay High when it crashed into the Arabian sea around 30 nautical miles off the Mumbai coast. Both pilots and five officials of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) who were on the copter were killed.

AAIB’s findings were based on data from the cockpit voice recorder and digital flight data recorder – which were recovered from the crash site – that indicated poor interpersonal communication between the pilots.

Pawan Hans and ONGC did not respond to messages from HT for a comment on the findings of the accident investigation.

“The pilot in command did not allow the copilot to take control, leading the helicopter to crash with high velocity into the sea,” said the report.

Ohatkar, who had been taking breaks from work due to medical and personal reasons, had earlier been involved in another serious incident when he was co-pilot of a flight three years ago, Pawan Hans officials aware of it said. Instead of turning off the landing gear switch, the pilot by mistake switched off the emergency cutoff switch, resulting in total electrical power failure.

Commenting on the investigation, a senior Pawan Hans pilot claimed that despite being disoriented, Ohatkar may not have allowed the copilot to take control of the copter because the latter had not been cleared as an offshore captain). “Pawan Hans should have rostered a captain instead of a copilot with Capt. Ohatkar,” the pilot, who requested anonymity, added.

According to the report, the helicopter, which had undergone major servicing – after 600 hours of flying – was on its first sortie after the test which had found problems with the autopilot heading mode – which allows the aircraft to maintain constant direction – but this had not been not reported and rectified.

“The copilot who performed the test flight was not adequately qualified to do so,” a senior Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) official said on condition of anonymity. Autopilot defects noticed during the test flight had not been recorded and so hadn’t been rectified before the fatal flight was approved, he said. “This led to autopilot failure and resulted in the crash.”

A former pilot and aviation expert, who requested anonymity. said autopilot failure was not an unmanageable situation.

“It’s a tough but controllable situation. It’s on the two pilots to manage and control the situation to make a safe landing. In this case. However, lack of CRM and coordination between the pilots led to the crash.” CRM is short for crew resource management, which refers to the rostering of a team best suited for flight safety.

A Pawan Hans official, who didn’t want to be named, said that the accident could have been prevented with a different pilot pairing.

The AAIB has raised concerns about flaws in the CRM that has led to serious aircraft accidents and incidents in the recent past and said there was a need, on an urgent basis, to address safety concerns.

A Delhi-based Pawan Hans pilot said that a Dauphin helicopter had crashed in Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh in August 2015 for similar reasons. The co-pilot had been flying for the first time in the monsoon in the northeast. The Pawan Hans Pilots’Guild had written to the management and cautioned it about the crew composition and likelihood of an accident.

“The letter had categorically stated that the copilot should not be rostered for the flight, but the management went ahead to roster him for the sortie and the helicopter carrying an IAS {Indian Administrative Service} officer crashed killing everyone on board,” said the pilot.

The report also said the contract terms between Pawan Hans and ONGC - which used the service to ferry employees to the Bombay High offshore oil fields - could have jeopardised safety. ONGC charges hourly liquidated damages (LD) to the operator for non-provisioning of a helicopter, due to which many times the helicopter is pushed into service in a hurry to avoid paying a penalty. AAIB called this practice unsafe for operations.

“Before the accident flight, VT- PWA (the crashed aircraft) was not operational for a month, which means Pawan Hans might have suffered heavy LD, which is why they may have wanted to get the helicopter to fly again, and hence they might have overlooked the need for a more detailed repair requiring extra days,” said a senior helicopter industry analyst.

Recent safety scares

Last week, two pilots were suspended for three months because they forgot to extend the landing gear down while landing at Guwahati airport on July 25. The training sortie on VT-PHO (Dauphin N3 type helicopter) was conducted by two pilots, one of whom had recently been endorsed as an examiner on Dauphin N3 although he had very little flying experience on this variant. The examiner was carrying out a proficiency check of the other captain, who had not flown this type of helicopter for a long period.

People familiar with the details said the incident could have been fatal as the inadequately experienced pilots (on the type) got so busy handling the controls of N3 (which are different from the type of helicopter they were expertised in i.e. Dauphin N) that they forgot to extend the landing gear of N3.

“The pilots were suspended on September 18, almost two months after the incident took place, as their suspension is effective from the date of the incident, which means the pilot would resume flying in a month,” added a Delhi-based Pawan Hans official.