Garuda Indonesia Flight 200 pilot released on bail

Friday, February 15, 2008

Indonesian national Marwoto Komar has been released on bail having earlier been arrested over the March 7 crash of a Boeing 737 he was piloting. Garuda Indonesia Flight 200 overshot the runway at Yogyakarta Airport whilst landing after a scheduled domestic passenger flight, leaving 21 Indonesian and Australian passengers dead, out of 140 on board.

The subsequent investigation by the National Transport Safety Committee concluded with report released in November that found the aircraft had approached at far in excess of safe landing speeds, with Komar ignoring 15 activations of the Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) as well as his co-pilot requesting an emergency go-around as the plane touched down.

Muchtar Yudhi, legal representative of Mr Komar, told El Shinta radio today that authorities had accepted a request to release Komar on bail, he having been arrested nearly two weeks ago in Yogyakarta. He said Komar remains a suspect of manslaugher, but that he will continue to co-operate with police.

He also said that under global aviation law "if a plane crash occurred, the pilot cannot face criminal investigation".

The police say they intend to prosecute him for negligence and will now charge him when he returns to court. He is thought to be the first pilot to be prosecuted over a crash in Indonesian history, which also contains a poor aviation safety record.

The Indonesian Pilot's Association has also said that the criminal prosecution should be avoided, arguing that the only people who can judge whether mistakes were made in aviation are those professionally involved and not the police. There were protests in Jakarta demanding his release and dozens of pilots across the nation also campaigned. Two survivors, Adrianus Meliala and Retno Gunowati, went to the House of Representatives (DPR) on Wednesday to challenge those opposed to legal processes against the pilot.

The London-based International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations (IFALPA) commented that they were "saddened" to hear the news. IFALPA contends that further investigations are needed into the crash, and that criminal proceedings could prevent an accurate version of events from ever being known. A statement was released that read as follows: "The Federation expects that Capt. Komar will be released ... as he has agreed to fully cooperate with the police investigation and clearly poses no danger to society. He remains a professional who was involved in an unfortunate tragedy."

Alexander Downer, Australian foreign minister at the time of the crash, earlier said "...I am very glad that they have reached a point now where they have charged the captain of the aircraft." Several people involved were Australian journalists following Downer on a visit to Indonesia.

"Thanks to the chief of the Indonesian Police and the chief of Yogyakarta Police... I'm glad now that I can meet my family again." Komar said upon his release.

Komar has earlier been under police surveillance, during which time he was receiving psychological treatment. He has had his pilot's license suspended.