Attention focuses on cause of Pegasus Airlines crash in İstanbul

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A Police officer stands guard near the Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737-86J plane wreckage, after it overran the runway during landing and crashed, at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport, Turkey February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Severe weather, pilot error, pressure by the airline to cut safety corners and poor runway condition and government refusal to replace it are all being considered as possible causes of the accident that killed 3 people and injured 180

Questions are being raised about the cause of an accident on Wednesday in which a Pegasus Airlines aircraft skidded off the runway at İstanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport, slid down an embankment and broke into pieces, killing three passengers and injuring 180 occupants on board.

Pegasus flight PC2193, an 11-year-old Boeing 737-800, departed İzmir’s Adnan Menderes Airport at 5:22 p.m. on Wednesday bound for İstanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport with 183 passengers and crew on board. A thunderstorm was passing through İstanbul at the time the flight arrived in the vicinity of the airport, with winds gusting to 30 knots. According to broadcaster NTV, air traffic controllers notified the Pegasus pilots that two other planes had reported strong tailwinds and had aborted their landings shortly before flight PC2193 approached the airport, also saying that the designated runway could change due to weather conditions.

The two Pegasus pilots decided to attempt a landing despite the warning and touched down at 6:19 p.m. on runway 06 but failed to come to a complete stop, overrunning and plunging down an embankment about 20 meters below runway elevation. The force of the impact broke the plane into three, with the forward section of the fuselage flipping over and the tail breaking off. All 183 occupants were evacuated, with some climbing through cracks in the fuselage before emergency teams arrived.

Investigators are looking at many possible causes, including the plane’s speed and the weather at the airport. The İstanbul Anatolian Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office announced that the two pilots of PC2193 — who are currently in the hospital, one in serious condition — would be heard on suspicion of “negligence that led to death and injury,” according to state channel TRT. Prosecutors took statements from two air traffic control staff and two airport employees as well as from the pilots of the two other planes who aborted landings shortly before the Pegasus flight touched down. Blood samples were taken to check for alcohol or drugs, and the pilots’ phones were confiscated, according to the Aerotime Hub website.

Suspicions have been voiced about the airline’s security protocols and that it could be pressuring pilots to take riskier approaches to avoid costly delays and redirections since this is the third such incident involving Pegasus in a little over two years. The accident came less than a month after another Pegasus Airlines plane skidded off the runway at the same airport in Istanbul, on Jan. 7, causing the temporary closure of the facility. In January 2018 another Boeing 737 in the Pegasus fleet slid off a runway at Trabzon Airport in northeastern Turkey. The plane came to a rest in the dirt above the Black Sea with its nose pointed toward the water. No injuries were reported in either incident.

Another possible factor at play in the accident on Wednesday is the condition of the runway, which according to Transportation Minister Cahit Turhan — two days before the crash — was “exhausted” and was undergoing maintenance every night when flights were no longer landing.

In January the Transportation Ministry had rejected a proposal for the construction of a new runway at Sabiha Gökçen in an alleged bid to divert more flights to İstanbul’s new airport, a pet project of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. According to local media, the airport’s current facility capacity would clearly have allowed for the opening of the new runway as it served 35.5 million passengers in 2019 while having the capacity to handle 41 million.

The plane had previously been operated by now-defunct German airline Air Berlin before being acquired by Pegasus in May 2016. Prior to the Wednesday crash, Pegasus was scheduled to withdraw the aircraft once leasing expired as the airline is moving to an all-Airbus fleet in the future.

Pegasus Airlines CEO Mehmet T. Nane told a press conference in İstanbul on Thursday that the plane’s black boxes had been recovered and the data from them was being deciphered.

The aircraft’s manufacturer, Boeing Company, issued a statement saying: “We continue to receive reports out of Istanbul, Turkey, regarding the accident involving Pegasus Airlines. … Our top concern right now is for the safety and wellbeing of the passengers and crew onboard. We are in contact with our airline customer and have offered them our support. We stand ready to assist in any way possible.”

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