BELGRADE, SERBIA // The Serbian pilots association yesterday denied that a sleepy captain was to blame for an Air India plane crash in May that killed 158 passengers, saying that pilot fatigue caused by working conditions in India is to blame.
Indian media, citing an investigative panel, said this week that the Serb flight commander slept through more than half the flight and woke up disoriented and his reactions were slow when it was time to land the aircraft at Mangalore airport.
The Serb pilots responded that the captain, Zlatko Glusica, must not be "victimised" because the mistake could have been due to the fatigue caused by "pressures" while working in India.
"The individualisation of guilt ... is intended to shift the responsibility from those who have driven the crew and the passengers to death," the group said in a statement.
The Air India Express flight on May 22 from Dubai to Mangalore in southern India overshot a hilltop runway, crashed and plunged over a cliff, killing 158 people instantly including Mr Glusica and the co-pilot. Eight people survived.
The Indian panel examined information contained in the digital flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder of the Boeing 737-800 aircraft, which were found at the crash site. It said Mr Glusica reacted late and did not follow many standard operating procedures during the landing.
The crash report added to growing concern worldwide about the dangers posed by exhausted pilots working taxing schedules. Pilot unions are fighting efforts by budget-strapped airlines to get pilots to work longer hours.
Mr Glusica had previously flown for Serbian state JAT Airways, but like many pilots he had left the airline in recent years as it plunged into financial troubles.
The Serbian pilots association said the Indian panel "created an ugly picture about the Serbian pilots ... without taking into account the circumstances" that led to the crash.