Today marks 12 years since the crash of a Pakistani domestic flight that entered the history books in multiple ways under tragic circumstances. On July 28th, 2010, the Airbus A321 operating Airblue flight 202 crashed into mountainous terrain while approaching Islamabad, killing all onboard. Let’s see how the crash panned out.
The flight and aircraft involved
Airblue flight 202 was a scheduled domestic service that originated at Pakistan’s busiest airport, Jinnah International (KHI) in Karachi. This facility remains the primary hub for Airblue, which celebrated 18 years of operations last month. Meanwhile, the flight’s destination was the city of Islamabad, in northern Pakistan.
At the time, the city was served by Benazir Bhutto International Airport. However, this facility has since been replaced by the new Islamabad International Airport (ISB), which opened in May 2018. The route to Karachi is comfortably Islamabad’s busiest, with Airblue, AirSial, Fly Jinnah, Pakistan International Airlines, and Serene Air combining to provide more than 90 flights per week.
The aircraft operating Airblue flight 202 on July 18th, 2010, was an Airbus A321-200 registered as AP-BJB. According to the Aviation Safety Network, this twinjet was just over 10 years old at the time, having first flown in April 2000. It had 146 passengers and six crew members onboard, giving a total occupancy of 152 people.
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Airblue flight 202 left Karachi on the morning of July 18th, 2010, departing Pakistan’s busiest airport at 07:41 local time. While most of the flight passed without incident, weather conditions in Islamabad were deteriorating during the A321’s journey north. This had prompted the diversion of a China Southern flight.
Nonetheless, the aircraft continued towards Islamabad, and, approaching from the southeast, was instructed to follow a procedure that would see it fly beyond the airport. Once visual contact was made, it was then expected to come back around, and line up to land on the 3,292-meter-long southeast-facing runway 12.
However, this never came to fruition, with local air traffic controllers losing contact with the aircraft at 09:41 local time. This was because the aircraft had flown outside of the 5 NM (9.3 km) safe zone designed to prevent planes from impacting the Margalla Hills to the north. This resulted in the flight colliding with the mountains 8 NM (15 km) north of the airport, killing everyone on board.
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Caused by the Captain’s arrogance
An investigation into the accident highlighted multiple instances of arrogant behavior by the flight’s Captain, 61-year-old Pervez Iqbal Chaudhry. Specifically, it found that, earlier in the flight, he had berated the First Officer, causing him to lose confidence when it came to challenging his colleague. This would later prove fatal.
Indeed, investigators noted that, despite Chaudhry deviating from standard operating procedures on several occasions, he was met with limited resistance from his colleague. The toxic atmosphere in the cockpit thus allowed Chaudry to arrogantly dismiss ATC suggestions and fly his own unorthodox approach pattern.
This took the aircraft outside the protected 5 NM radius and thus resulted in the aircraft’s collision with the mountains. In the moments leading up to the crash, Chaudry also ignored audible alarms from the A321’s Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS). the circumstances that resulted in the disaster were a textbook example of the importance of crew resource management.
Source: Aviation Safety Network