This article analyses the greatest Pakistan Air Force tragedy and raises important questions relating to the flight safety of the aircraft.
According to Reuters (global news agency), the Villager Zarmast Khan said the weather was foggy at the time of the crash, but there was only a very light drizzle. [TAULANJ, Pakistan, Pakistan (Reuters) – By Abdul Sami Paracha]
Local people told journalists that the weather at the time of incident was not clear. “There were dark clouds hanging over the mountains and local people were still inside their houses because it was so cold,” one man said. [Form the article by Haroon Rashid, BBC reporter near Kohat]
Analysis & Questions:
When flights are scheduled and planned, a few hours before the departure time, the pilot submits a flight plan from the place of origin to the destination. At the time of granting clearance to the aircraft to proceed on the flight, the pilot is given the weather briefing en route and at the destination. In low visibility conditions, the flight can only be undertaken under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) meaning that the aircraft is flown using the flight instruments, airfield approach aids and the landing aids. Also weather-minima limitations are laid down for every airfield considering the surrounding terrain. The pilots must adhere to the airfield limitations for takeoff and landing.
The weather reported around Kohat was foggy with low clouds covering the hills. In fog, the horizontal visibility is extremely low. Because of the poor visibility and extremely low cloud base, it is not possible to operate the flight under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). Here the following questions arise:
– Are the flights under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) permitted to operate at the Kohat airfield or only flights under the Visual Flight Rules permitted?
– What approach and landing aids are available at Kohat (such as Visual Omni Range (VOR) and Instrument Landing System (ILS)?
– What are the weather-minima for the Kohat airfield? If the weather was below minima, why was the VIP flight allowed to descend and approach for landing by Kohat Air Traffic Control or the Cherat Control?
– Did the aircraft follow the standard operating procedures laid down for the Kohat Airfield?
– In case the pilot took decision to descend on his own, does it reflect the lack of discipline on the part of the pilots?
– If the flights are permitted to operate under only Visual Flight Rule (VFR) conditions at Kohat, then why was the clearance granted in poor weather conditions, to start with, by the Air Traffic Control at PAF Chaklala?
If the Chief of the Pakistan Air Force along with his principle staff officers was supposed to go to Kohat for annual inspection, and the weather was poor, could the flight have been delayed and the inspection rescheduled for a later date, as it was a local arrangement of the Pakistan Air Force? And as such, could this tragic incident have been avoided?
As we all know, the Pakistan Air Force aircraft (Air Force 1) carrying Air Chief Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir along with his principle staff officers crashed near Kohat and all the 17 people on board became martyrs. It is the greatest tragedy of all times for the Pakistan Air Force. We lost a very capable and professional Chief of the Pakistan Air Force and the Principal Staff Officers. It is a tragic time for Pakistan. It is important to hold thorough investigation and get to the root cause, so that tragedies of such immense proportion can be avoided in the future.
Mr. Muhammad Afzal Khan is a retired Pilot.