'Fire extinguishers in cockpit not used'

PATNA, JULY 20. Officials of the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) probing the Alliance Air Boeing-737s crash near the Patna airport on Monday last, have stumbled on the startling fact that the ``switch inside the cockpit to ignite the bottle to put out the possible engine fire'' had not been used.

Preliminary investigation in the cockpit of the Boeing-737 aircraft bearing registration VT-EGD from the accident site at Patna, has shown that ``the fire extinguishing bottles were in tact and the switch to activate them were in the normal position''.

High-placed sources did not rule out the possibility that one of the engines had caught fire. However, ``we will have to wait and see the detailed decoded information collected from the findings of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and the Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) that would set at rest all the doubts and provide vital clues,'' they said.

Giving details of the sequence of events supported by information about the conversation between the pilot, Capt. M. S. Sohanpal, and the Air Traffic Control Tower authorities, the sources said the Alliance Air flight had been cleared to land from the runway 25 end following the procedure of Instrument Landing System (ILS) Antenna and also report to the ATC after aligning to land on to the ``localiser'' (ILS approach). The pilot then informed the ATC of the plane's exact height and that he wanted to make a 360 degree orbit. Asked to report back whether he had switched to the ``localiser'' mode and whether the runway was in sight, Captain Sohanpal replied in the affirmative.

This was the last radio contact between the pilot and the ATC before the plane crashed after hitting a tree while on its final approach.

The investigating team also collected details about the weather. The visibility clearance level at the airport was 4,000 metres on July 17. This vital piece of information was made available by the Meteorological Department office at the airport at 5-20 a.m. and at 7-20 a.m. to the ATC authorities who in turn conveyed it to the Alliance Air pilot.

Officials of the DGCA said decoding the Black Box and the DFDR would reveal more facts.