MUMBAI: Dismissing the evidence captured in videos shot by electronic media, the ministry of civil aviation on Thursday said that the Air India Express Calicut accident site was secured by the CISF and no evidence was tampered with.
Early this week, Capt Amit Singh, an air safety expert had sent a letter to secretary, ministry of civil aviation (MoCA) with snapshots of video clips that showed a person dressed in fatigues, remove a document retrieved from the cockpit of the crashed aircraft. He had sought a probe into the matter. Times of India went through the video clips concerned, shot around 10.30 pm on August 7, about three hours after the crash. The Aircraft Accident Investigation team reached the site at 6 am on August 8.
In a minute long portion of the clip, aired by a news agency, a person can be seen squatting inside the damaged cockpit, while another person standing outside, with his back facing the camera, looks on. With a torch in hand, the person inside the cockpit goes around searching for something. He can be seen rummaging through files, papers, disturbing the scene.
In the second clip, aired by another news agency, a person can be seen inside the cockpit. Infact, the anchor said: “You can see inside, that is the cockpit, where the CISF officials are trying to recover some important data. So this is quite a surreal image….” Later on, the clip shows a person approaching the cockpit with a crowbar.
In another scene, a person in uniform is seen squatting outside the damaged windshield of the cockpit. He gestures to a person, who is inside the cockpit. The person inside the cockpit, hands over, what looks like a packet or document, to the man in uniform squatting outside. The object is passed to the outsider through the broken cockpit windshield. The person in uniform shines his torch on the retrieved object, turns it around, as if, to check a label or some mark and then hands over the object to another person. The entire operation is done by gaining access through the broken cockpit window, which had breached the airport perimeter wall during the eventful landing.
Based on these clips, the observations made by Capt Singh and his complaint letter to MoCA seeking probe, the TOI carried a report on Thursday, titled ” AIExp Calicut crash evidence tampered?” TOI sought comment from the ministry of civil aviation on Wednesday, but received no response. On Thursday, the ministry of civil aviation responded to the TOI report stating that “the insinuation of tampering of evidence is baseless”.
Here is the evidence, a 3.34 minute clip, based on which Capt Singh approached MoCA with a request to initiate a probe.
And here is the ministry response and point-by-point response from TOI.
MoCA: Firstly, the ill-fated aircraft crashed inside the airport perimeter. The accident occurred on 07.08.2020 at 1940 hrs.
TOI: The aircraft breached the perimeter wall. Photographs show that the cockpit could be accessed from outside the perimeter wall. The videos show people gain access into the cockpit through its broken windshield.
MoCA: Secondly, after the passengers were rescued by CISF personnel, villagers and airport staff; the team led by CISF Dy Commandant had cordoned off the area with thick Manila ropes in the night itself.
TOI: The video clip shows a person had entered the cockpit.
MoCA: The “Go Team” of AAIB left for the accident site by a special flight (0230 Hrs on August 8, 2020). AAIB and Air India Express team reached the crash site by 0600 hrs on August 8. The site at that time was well cordoned off and was being guarded by CISF personnel.
TOI: The video clips show a man in uniform removing a document/packet from the cockpit. The video was shot about three hours after the crash and about seven and a half hours before the AAIB and AIX team reached the spot.
MoCA: Immediate Photography/Videography of the wreckage was started in “as is where is” condition. The documents/specific items were collected and preserved for further examination/investigation.
TOI: Was it “as is where is” condition? Video clips show atleast two separate instances of a person rummaging through files, documents in the cockpit.
MoCA: On August 8, a number of dignitaries, Hon’ble MPs, CM of Kerala, Governor of Kerala, MoS (I/C) (MoCA), MoS (EAM) visited the crash site and they were apprised of the action taken at the crash site. The aircraft wreckage was packed and sealed on 09 Aug. The activity was photographed. Ever since its occurrence, the wreckage is being guarded by CISF personnel as per their mandate. As everybody has a smart phone these days, it is next to impossible to stop anyone in the commotion from taking photographs while rescue was underway for saving lives of injured passengers.
TOI: The said clips were shot by the electronic media.
MoCA: In the worst-case scenario during the rescue, even if any switches got moved from their position unintentionally while extricating both pilots from the cockpit, Investigation would corroborate evidence with CVR, DFDR data. Further, at that critical juncture when accident has happened, it is prudent and more important to save lives which the villagers rightly did.
TOI: Neither is the TOI report, nor Capt Singh’s letter about switches being moved unintentionally in the cockpit. The issue is about a person rummaging through files, documents in the cockpit, looking for a particular object, a document or a packet. It is about evidence captured on video, which shows a man in uniform taking away a document/packet from the cockpit of the crashed aircraft.
Then again, not all evidence can be corroborated from CVR, DFDR data. The intruders disturbed the scene. Information that cannot be provided by CVR or DFDR is lost. For instance: in an accident investigation, the location of different items is taken into consideration to study the human factors involved. Whether a particular aircraft manual was kept close to the pilot for easy accessibility and use.
An investigation looks at what happened and more importantly, why it happened. Like in a scene of crime, the investigators rebuild the whole scenario. In this case, with the person rummaging and throwing things around in the cockpit, that is not possible now.
MoCA: Therefore, this insinuation of tampering of evidence is baseless.
TOI: Were the government procedures for handling non-anonymous complaints followed?
Capt Amit Singh put forth these points:
* Atleast two different intrusions have been captured on camera.
* In one of them, a person can be seen entering the cockpit with a crowbar (circled in the video). Was the person trying to break open something?
* Aircraft wreckage, cockpit should be left undisturbed. Accident investigation manual says that while rescuing injured crew members, their identification and location in or around the aircraft must be carefully recorded. In case, the crew members are dead, necessary photographs should be taken in situ prior to removal of bodies. The removal action should be such as to cause minimal disturbance to the aircraft wreckage/parts and any such disturbance should be fully recorded. But the intruder rummaged through files in the cockpit, disturbed the scene. Information that cannot be provided by CVR or DFDR is lost.
* There are a number of cavities in a cockpit, behind the control panels. There are certain open cavities, certain closed cavities. Why was the intruder trying to break open the cavities? The video shows a person passing on a crowbar to another person posted inside the cockpit?
* The item removed from the cockpit, might have provided some evidence in the accident investigation. A judicial probe must be initiated to carry out an unbiased investigation.
Other relevant details in this matter:
* What are the documents kept in the cockpit?
An aircraft cockpit contains a number of documents like the aircraft journey log book (also called “aircraft technical logbook”. It documents hours flown by the aircraft, technical status of aircraft, engineering, maintenance work done, defects etc). Then there is the aircraft certificate of registration, certificate of air worthiness etc.
* What do the norms about securing aircraft wreckage state:
The Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) procedures manual 2012 details the procedure for securing the evidence on site (4.1.4). It states that the officer incharge of the aerodrome closest to the site of accident shall assist in coordination with local police authorities and shall take immediately all reasonable measures to protect the evidence until the arrival of the officer of AAIB or any other authorized person. It adds that the assistance of civil authorities, particularly that of local police is also necessary to ensure that vital evidence is not lost.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Doc. 9756 Part II states that “securing the occurrence site, aircraft, wreckage, and other equipment involved to ensure their preservation, including protection against further damage, and the deterioration or disappearance of essential evidence due to theft, displacement or improper handling of the wreckage” should be accomplished without delay.
* Will the matter be probed?
The ministry has stated that evidence was not tampered with and so a probe into the matter appears unlikely. Calling for an FIR to be lodged into the matter, advocate Yeshwant Shenoy filed a complaint with the Karipur police station on August 19. Referring to the parcel/document taken from the cockpit, as shown in the video clip, Shenoy said: “Those papers from the cockpit could be crucial to investigation…”


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