Garuda Indonesia Flight 200's pilot's marital problems may have affected judgement

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A new theory has emerged as in to why the pilot of Garuda Indonesia Flight 200 attempted to land at a hugely excessive speed, despite 15 automated warnings he was flying too quickly and the co-pilot's call for a 'go-around' procedure to be performed. 21 people were killed in the March 7 crash of the Boeing 737-400 passenger jetliner.

Stephanus Geraldus, head of the Garuda pilots association, said that problems at home and a lack of sleep may have affected Marwoto Komar's judgement. The news comes as Indonesian authorities announce they are pressing ahead with a possible prosecution.

The final report into the disaster, released on Monday, found that Komar, 45, had exhibited what was described as a "fixation" to land the plane, resulting in the excessively fast approach.

"If you look at his long flying experience, it's impossible that he would try to land at that speed," Captain Geraldus said, adding that marrital problems with wife Norma Andriani, a former air hostess, were "common knowledge". This was backed up by Dudi Sudibyo, an analyst at Angkasa magazine (translated: 'Airspace').

"I understand he was arguing with his wife until late that night," said Sudibyo, who went on to express concern at the lack of addressal of potential mental problems on the part of the pilot in the report. Sudibyo is himself a licensed pilot.

Lack of sleep may also have contributed. Both Komar and Gagam Rochmana, the flight's co-pilot, reported for duty at 4:30 a.m., with the flight departing Jakarta for Yogyakarta as scheduled at 6 a.m. "What I want to know now is: why he didn't report that lack of sleep and ask to be shifted to the next flight, or maybe he felt extremely confident he could fly - overconfident," Sudibyo specualted. The report did not find any explicit evidence that they were unfit to fly, but did comment that "they did not provide the investigation with information about (their) activities during the 72 hours prior to commencing duty".

Police officials have commented that a prosecution is likely with the only personnel required to complete the case against the pilot and co-pilot being expert witnesses, and that the pilots had been grounded since the accident. "We're looking to prosecute under criminal negligence causing death and serious injury," Inspector-General Adiwinoto said.

"We need witnesses who can prove there was negligence, and since this was an aviation matter, that could be someone from the National Safety Transportation Committee, or it could also be a medical doctor because of the deaths and injuries.

"We have been proceeding with this investigation all along, but we needed enough preliminary evidence, which we now do have, with the report that says, yes, there was human negligence." He also said that the airline may itself be prosecuted for failing to provide necessary training to the flight crew. This new development comes at the same time as six Garuda Boeing 737-400s are grounded for failure to comply with import regulations.