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Indonesian Pilot Accused of Crashing Plane by Ignoring Warnings

  • Nancy-Amelia Collins

The pilot of an Indonesian airliner that crashed in 2007, killing 21 people, has gone on trial - accused of deliberately ignoring warnings, causing the airliner to crash. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins in Jakarta has more.

Indonesian pilot Marwoto Komar faces a maximum of life in prison, if found guilty of causing a Garuda Airlines Boeing 737 to crash, when it skidded off the runway and burst into flames after crash landing at Yogyakarta airport in March, 2007.

Prosecutor Mudim Aristo told a panel of judges at Thursday's opening of the trial that Komar deliberately ignored warning signals from an onboard warning system and from his co-pilot, bringing the plane in at twice the speed for a normal landing.

Indonesian authorities say the too-rapid descent caused the plane to overshoot the runway and burst into flames, killing 21 of the 140 people on board.

A government investigation last year by the Indonesian National Transport Safety Commission said the pilot ignored onboard automatic warnings, 15 warnings from the control tower to abort the landing and pleas from his co-pilot to circle round again, as he descended too rapidly.

Komar was the chief pilot of the aircraft and faces three counts of negligence and one count of deliberately destroying or damaging an aircraft, causing death.

Stephanus Gerardus, chairman of the Indonesian Pilot's Association, says Komar's trial will not help improve the country's aviation safety.

"The impact of the court is impact for the safety of flight also, because all pilots, especially in Indonesia, is bothered with this system. Criminalizing is exactly bothering the safety of flight because every pilot, starting from now, will be afraid to make a decision," said Gerardus.

Komar's arrest and subsequent sacking by Garuda has angered pilots, who say only aviation experts and not the country's legal system have the right to say who is responsible for the accident.

The association says, under international aviation regulations, police are not allowed to use information from the planes black box recorder to prosecute the pilot.

Indonesia has one of the world's worse aviation safety records. A string of airline disasters in recent years has caused the European Union to ban all Indonesian airlines from its airspace.

The chairman of the country's pilot association, Gerardus, says Indonesia has a long way to go to improve its airline safety.

"All the aviation industry and all aviation persons agree that we have to improve the safety of flight, so we have to build the new system according to the international standards," he said.

Komar's trial is expected to last several months.

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