The Poirot of the Skies
By Meera Bhardwaj | Published: 23rd March 2014 06:00 AM |
Malaysia Airlines flight disappearance is a terrible human tragedy,” says ex-naval pilot Samir Kohli. “But for an aircraft as reliable as the Boeing 777 and equipped with so much technology, it is surprising.”
Flitting from country to country, the decorated ex-naval pilot has investigated 12 air accidents to date. A certified aircraft accident investigator from the International Civil Aviation Organization in Canada, Kohli offers his expertise in the field of safety management systems for civil aviation in other countries. At present, he is aviation adviser to Agip Ecuador Oil company in Ecuador. “There are very few investigators in India, none on the civil side. You can find a few in the Indian Air Force. The Indian civil aviation industry controlled by politicians does not have a job for me as they don’t understand the need for an investigator,” he says.
Elaborating on the missing MH370’s capabilities, Kohli says, “The aircraft was equipped with an ACRS system that sends automated technical messages to the ground station. But it did not transmit any alerts. So there was no technical failure.”
The theory of bombing or a sudden disintegration comes next, says the ace investigator. “We have two precedents to such an attack, the Air India Flight 182 (1985) and the Pan Am Flight 103 (1988). When an aircraft is bombed, there will always be wreckage. Complete disintegration without a trace is highly unlikely. There is also no evidence of an explosion as confirmed by replay of satellite recordings. ”
Based on the evidence available, the closest parallel to this incident is the Air France 447 mishap, he says. “The aircraft stalled and fell from a similar altitude and hit the ocean. It broke up on impact and left debris and bodies floating. They were recovered five days later. Of course, it took over two years to find rest of the wreckage and another year to recover the Black Box and CVR.”
Troubled by comments in international press about pilot suicide, Kohli says, “Pilots are trained to aviate, navigate and communicate…in this sequence. So, if the pilots were dealing with an emergency, their first priority would be to keep the plane flying and under control, in short—aviate. Once they had the plane under control, they would focus on navigation. Only then would they think about communicating. So the question is did they lose total electrical power that knocked out their communication systems? Highly unlikely given the back-ups built into the 777 design, but this is theoretically possible. Or, were they hijacked and forced to turn off the transponder? Nothing can be confirmed or ruled out.”
In 2012, Kohli was hired as an independent investigator by the 812 Foundation formed by families of victims of Air India Express Flight IX 812 from Dubai to Mangalore that crashed while landing on 22 May, 2010, killing 158 passengers and crew members (out of the 166 on board). The official inquiry had churned a standard ‘pilot error’ verdict. “I found the government had suppressed facts and focused on the pilot’s errors. A pilot can’t be held responsible for the entire team.”
Kohli faced many obstacles as he tried to study the situation in detail and obtain all the records and statements by filing more than 30 RTI petitions in Delhi and Mangalore. “It took me almost one year to get all the facts from the evasive authorities,” he says. “I found the reason for the crash was that the Mangalore Airport was built in a non-standard methodology with the existence of a concrete structure that was non-frangible and just 200 metres from the runaway. The entire wing of the plane was sheared off on collision with this structure that lead to the explosion.”
“The post-mortem report of the victims showed that only six out of 158 had fatal injuries while the rest had died of fire burns. My investigation revealed gross negligence at every level of the government machinery including the managements of the DGCA, AAI, Air India and Mangalore Airport. Based on my report, the families have now filed a petition in the Supreme Court,” he says.
Kohli has 30 years of flying experience with 21 years in Indian Navy and nine years in civil aviation. He has commandeered multi-aircraft squadrons based in the eastern coast, participated in IPKF operations, tsunami rescue operations in Nicobar Islands, winning many laurels for his daredevil exploits.
He received the Nausena Medal for gallantry in 1988, Commendation for Chief of Naval Staff (2006), the Chief of Air Staff Trophy for best in Air Traffic Management training and a host of other awards.