Confusion … then Garuda plane crashes

Unofficial transcript of conversation shows control tower gave wrong instruction to pilot.

AN UNOFFICIAL transcript of the final conversation between the pilot of the ill-fated Garuda plane and the Medan control tower pointed to confusion over flight directions before the crash.

A two-page document in English, without a letterhead and whose source is unknown, showed a mix-up over the direction the pilot of Flight GA-152 took and what the air-traffic controller at Medan’s Polonia Airport was telling him.

All 234 passengers and crew died when the Garuda Airbus A-300 crashed into a hillside and burst into flames, south of thehaze-shrouded city of Medan in North Sumatra, on Friday.

But President Suharto yesterday warned against speculation into the cause of the crash. He was quoted by Transportation Minister Haryanto Dhanutirto as saying that Indonesians should wait for the official inquiry, which could take up to eight months.

The transcript, which recorded the last 1 1/2 minutes of conversation in English, showed the aircraft was initially turned away from the airport to allow a Bouraq Airlines Boeing 737 to take off.

When ready to line up the Garuda for its final approach, the controller initially said, “Turn right”, but later asked the pilot to confirm if he was turning left.

“No,” the pilot said. “We are turning right.” Then the tower instructed him to “continue turning left”.

The pilot replied: “Confirm turning left? We are turning right now.” The controller paused, said OK twice, and instructed the pilot to continue turning right only for the plane to head directly, minutes later, into the hillside.

The crash occured minutes after the pilot reported low visibility because of the haze. The transcript lent credence to growing speculation here that Medan’s control tower was responsible for Indonesia’s worst air disaster.

The leading Indonesian-language Kompas daily reported that the tower had also instructed the pilot to drop flight altitude to 2,000 feet (609 m), way below the safety requirement of 7,500 feet.

Kompas said the Garuda pilot’s final conversation with the tower had been overheard by pilots of a Merpati and a Bouraq aircraft – which were also under the tower’s jurisdiction at the time.

No one is aware of the transcript’s source but some in the media here speculate that it could be from disgruntled pilots who were concerned that Captain Rachmo Wiyogo, who was at the controls of the Airbus, might be blamed for the accident.

The chairman of the Garuda Pilots Communication Forum, Mr S.M. Nababan, said: “If the conversation as shown in the transcript did occur, it means that Rachmo was doing the correct thing as he followed the air-traffic controller’s instruction.”

EXCERPTS OF THE EXCHANGE

THIS is part of the unofficial transcript of the final conversation between the pilot and air-traffic control. Newspapers and television gave prominent coverage to it yesterday even though its source is unknown and the black-box flight-data recorders have yet to be recovered.
Controller: GIA 152 turn right heading 046 report establishing localiser.
Pilot: Turn right heading 040 GIA 152. Check established.
Controller: Turning right, sir.
Pilot: Roger 152. Controller: 152. Confirm you’re making turning left now?
Pilot: We are turning right now.
Controller: 152 OK. You continue turning left now.
Pilot: (Pause) Confirm turning left? We are starting turning right now.
Controller: OK (pause) OK. GIA 152 continue turn right heading 015.
Pilot: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Allahu Akbar! (God is Great)

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