PK8303 Crash – Update Based on New Investigation Reports

By Ankur Deo | May 25, 2020

After some thorough investigations (both concluded and ongoing), more information is now known regarding the crash of PK8303, the Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A320 that went down on May 22, 2020, in Karachi. This crash is one of the most catastrophic aviation disasters in the country’s history. Investigations are going on currently to find out if the crash is attributable to a technical problem or pilot error, with new leads raising fresh questions over the circumstances of the incident. According to the report prepared by Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), various new events have come to light, which are quite unsettling.

When the aircraft was fifteen nautical miles away from the Jinnah International Airport, it was flying at an altitude of 10000 feet instead of 7000. The Air Traffic Control (ATC) then issued its first warning to the crew to lower the altitude. The crew responded by saying that they were satisfied and even 10 nautical miles before the airport, the A320 was still at an altitude of 7000 feet instead of 3000 feet. The ATC again issued a warning to lower their altitude. The crew, however, responded by stating that they were ready to land and would handle the situation, the report said.

PK8303 crash site. ©The Hindu

When the crew attempted to land, the aircraft’s engines scraped the runway thrice, The report speculates that this must have caused substantial damage to either or both the engines. After the third impact, the pilot decided to take off again, which the investigators found strange, as the crew did not inform the Air Traffic Control (ATC) about any possible problem associated with the landing gear, or other mechanism. Moreover, since automated emergency systems within the aircraft are triggered in case of any emergency, leading to loud alarms and warnings, there was no indication or information conveyed from the pilot to the ATC that something was amiss. The report has stated that when the aircraft scraped the ground on the first failed attempt at landing, the engine’s oil tank and fuel pump may have been damaged to an extent where they started leaking, thereby, preventing the the crew from achieving the necessary speed and thrust to safely control the aircraft. The report also highlighted that the crew made the decision to undertake a “go-around” on their own after failing to land the first time. It was only in the go-around that the ATC was informed that landing gear was not deploying.

During the go-around, the crew was directed by the ATC to fly at 3000 feet, but the aircraft managed only 1800 feet. When the ATC reminded the crew to go to the 3000 feet level, the first officer replied by saying ‘we are trying’, the report further added. Analysts and aviation experts said that the inability of the aircraft to achieve the directed height certainly indicates that the engines were not responding. The aircraft then tilted and crashed into a crowded locality near the airport.

The aircraft debris and damaged housed houses on which it crashed ©The Hindustan Times

The investigators are now focusing on why the crew did not inform the ATC of any malfunction, emergency, resulting from any known engine failure or fire, among other possibilities, despite the fact that the aircraft was clearly facing severe problems. The report also stated that ‘it is rare for an aircraft as reliable and fly-worthy as the A320 to have so many technical problems at the same time.’ At this moment, the ATC’s actions are also probed. Pakistan International Airlines Chief Executive, Arshad Malik, has stated that the black boxes of the A320 have been recovered and handed over to the investigation team.

Marks on the runway where the engines scrapped on tarmac. ©

The report added that at this point, there are more questions than answers with the most serious being:

  1. Why the aircraft had maintained an unusually high altitude just 10-15 nautical miles before landing when the ATC clearly warned the crew at least twice?
  2. How the alarm systems inside the cockpit failed to warn the pilots of an impending emergency (if any), and why did the crew fail to convey the ATC clearly of their situation?
  3. What was the status of the landing gear during the aircraft’s attempt to land, and what was the status of the engines after the failed attempt?

While we cannot derive any conclusion about the crash as of now, it is certain that this was a complex incident with good probability of pilot error, technical glitch (given that the aircraft was grounded for two months, so its maintenance and technical health records would be inspected) or an amalgamation of the two.

We shall update as soon as more details resulting from the investigations shall be made public. Stay tuned!

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