Six months after the May 22 Mangalore plane crash, which claimed 158 lives, an investigation report blaming Serbian pilot Zlatko Glusica for the country’s worst air disaster of the last decade was leaked to the media.
According to Hindustan Times, Commander Glusica “was asleep for over 1 hour 40 minutes of the three-hour flight and ‘disoriented’ at the time when the plane started to descend.”
An anonymous Indian source stated that Mr. Glusica was suffering from “sleep inertia,” adding that the “black box” recorded “heavy nasal snoring and breathing in pilot cabin.”
According to the voice recorder, co-pilot H. S. Ahluwalia warned the captain repeatedly to “abort landing,” saying they didn't have enough runway left and asking him three times to “go around.”
The Serbian media accepted the “sleepy pilot” story as the final version of this tragic event, showing little desire to investigate the real background of the Mangalore disaster, despite the fact that Mangalore Airport is said to be one of the most dangerous in the world, even for very experienced pilots.
The accusations had a devastating effect on the pilot's family, friends and colleagues in Serbia.
Mr. Glusica's daughter, Merima Glusica, said this to Global Voices:
Horrible headlines were published in the Serbian media. One of them – “Zlatko Glusica killed 158“ – completely broke me. Afterwards, my little son asked whether uncle Alexandar would also perish one day if he continued to fly.
Mr. Glusica's son Alexandar is a student at the Flight Academy, and his pilot's training was the main reason why Mr. Glusica signed the contract with Air India, where a pilot’s minimal monthly payment is about $9,500, whereas the average salary of Serbian national airline JAT's pilots is 2,400 euros.
Alexandar Glusica was deeply hurt and sent a protest note to the Serbian daily Blic, with the following request:
It’s inhuman to deal with rumors about the guilt of my father, while the official results of the investigation are still unknown. Do not blame my father until the end of the investigation.
He explained to Global Voices:
I understand that a country like India would blame a foreigner, instead of confessing their own error and the error of their own pilots. But I cannot understand that my father's people would encourage and support them in their lies!
He added for Blic:
All statements about my father's snoring for a period of 90 minutes are false because the black box only records the [last 30 minutes].
Alexandar Glusica noted that his father was fully awake at the moment of the landing, mentioning the report of CNN-IBN as a crucial proof:
CNN-IBN broadcast the conversation between him and the flight control. It is possible to hear that he was completely lucid during the conversation. In addition, it is a well-known aviation rule: while one pilot takes communication with flight control, the other one performs landing. In this case, as my father talked with the control tower, it is logical that no one else could have been doing the landing but the co-pilot.
Mr. Glusica's colleagues from the Serbian Pilot Association (SPA) sent a public appeal to Serbian journalists, protesting the “creation of a bad image of Serbian pilots.”
Predrag Radosavljevic, SPA's president, reminds readers that the Indian media reported about heavy rain at Mangalore Airport at the time of the disaster:
The passengers who survived talked about a blast under the fuselage, indicating a possible tire explosion. At such speed, with the wet runway and a tire explosion, there was no chance to stop the plane…
Branko Habuš, former head of the telecommunications sector of JAT and author of Aircraft Accidents in Civil Aviation, points out that the command of the plane was in the co-pilot's hands during the landing. Habuš had received this information through a pilot friend, who visited the site of the disaster and had access to a preliminary report on the causes of the accident:
The Indian co-pilot forced the landing. […] He missed a fixed point of landing as much as 600 meters. He landed suddenly and so “hard” that the plane just broke into pieces! The co-pilot was following the “localizer” that was near the runway and was probably giving the wrong information.
Merima Glusica recalls that her father did not have a high opinion of the Air India pilots:
He said they were very bad in their job. Some of the names he marked with the word “killer.” They were tampering with the command stick and flaps without announcing they would do it. In some cases he literally had to take the command stick from their hands in order to protect the passengers’ lives as well as his own. Their English was also very bad. How do you think he really felt when at the same time he had to pay attention to both a bad co-pilot and the control of commands?
Some Indian media do not trust the “sleepy pilot” theory, considering it an attempt of the Indian officials to hide their own errors, especially those that had been made during the construction of the new Mangalore runway.
Immediately after the disaster, the Environment Support Group stated this in a press release:
A series of Public Interest Litigations were fought by the Mangalore-based Environment Support Group (ESG) to stop the construction of this 2nd runway in Mangalore airport on grounds that the design simply did not conform to the most basic national and international standards of airport design. The PILs also highlighted that the airport does not conform with the most minimum safeguards for emergency situations – particularly during landings and takeoffs, and could not have emergency approach roads within a kilometre on all sides of the airport as required.
Mangalore Today wrote that “aviation experts had fiercely criticized the table-top nature of the airport, pointing out that it left no room for pilot error” and adding that the Airports Authority of India (AAI) should seriously consider extending the airport's runway after the May 22 disaster:
The civil aviation ministry has also directed the AAI to extend the runway by 1000ft, increasing the current 8000ft to 9000ft… The 3rd phase of the runway development project will include the installation of an arrester system and the creation of a 90mt buffer zone at the end of the runway.
Union Aviation Minister Praful Patel spoke about the professionalism of the Serbian pilot in a TV newscast immediately after the crash:
The pilot had 10,200 hours of flying experience. Of these, he had 7,000 hours as a pilot in command and had over 2,000 hours on a Boeing plane. He was also familiar with Mangalore airport and had flown in and out several times.
Mr. Glusica’s Facebook page overflows with condolences, memories, images, songs and links to the latest articles. His last post, dated May 17, was made when he celebrated his birthday, just five days before the catastrophe. His Facebook wall shows a happy and loved man, a proud father of three and an even more proud grandfather of two. He lived for his family and for the sky.
His daughter Merima, in her pain, wrote this on Facebook:
What can we do when winter comes with the beautiful snowflakes?
Lonely, we will walk down the street, looking into your windows…
The lights will be off.
We know there's no one there since a long time ago. Only darkness…
Tears in my eyes, that's all that will remain…
May your wings be light, my Angel