Expert wonders why Boeing and U.S. investigators changed SilkAir crash data
SINGAPORE (AP) - After a SilkAir plane crash in 1997 that killed all 104 people on board, U.S. investigators and Boeing Co. corrected radar data that supports a widely held theory that a suicidal pilot intentionally downed the aircraft.
On Friday, an expert witness for the airline said there was no clear justification for changing the data - an assertion aimed at bolstering SilkAir's claim that the crash was an accident.
Denis Howe, a flight expert at Britain's Royal Aeronautical Society, said he received initial radar data from SIA Engineering which supports his theory that the pilot was trying to do a normal emergency descent and not a reckless nosedive. SIA Engineering is a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines.
SilkAir, which is being sued by the families of six victims of the crash, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Singapore Airlines.
Indonesian investigators last year said there was not enough evidence to determine the cause of the crash. U.S. investigators, however, blamed the crash on pilot suicide.
The initial radar data that Howe said he analyzed was not used in the Indonesian or the U.S. report and he could not say where SIA Engineering received the data.
Howe testified that it was highly unlikely that the pilot of the doomed flight intentionally crashed the plane.
Flight MI185 probably plunged from 35,000 feet (10,600 meters) into an Indonesian river because the pilot nose-dived to save passengers from a sudden loss of pressure or because of a false warning of pressure loss in the cabin, he said.
The dive during the scheduled flight from Jakarta to Singapore probably started as a normal emergency descent but went wrong, Howe said.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs have argued that Singaporean Capt. Tsu Way Ming, who was in charge of the flight, had a history of disciplinary problems and safety breaches, and should not have been allowed to fly the plane.
Tsu was demoted by SilkAir because of three flying incidents that took place just months before the crash. One of the incidents involved Tsu switching off the cockpit voice recorder during a flight.
Both the voice recorder and the data flight recorder stopped working at different intervals moments before the crash of Flight MI185.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs have argued that Tsu probably turned off the recorders. Howe said a progressive power failure was more likely responsible.
The flight data recorder stopped working 1 minute 33 seconds before the aircraft crashed into the Musi river on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which means the aircraft dropped at 17,000 feet (5,100 meters) per minute, or almost three times faster than a normal rate of descent.
The plaintiffs are six families from Singapore, Malaysia, the United States and Britain, and include parents, children and spouses of those killed in the crash. Most of the victims' families have already accepted compensation of dlrs 200,000 per victim and are not suing.
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