x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Plane crash families holding out for answers

Two years after a cargo plane crashed in Sharjah, answers and closure remain scarce.

The wreckage of the Boeing 707 cargo plane that crashed near the Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club in October 2009.
The wreckage of the Boeing 707 cargo plane that crashed near the Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club in October 2009.

DUBAI // The families of the Azza Air transport crew who died in Sharjah two years ago today are still waiting for the final findings of the crash investigation - and some closure.

The Boeing 707-320C cargo freighter crashed shortly after take-off from Sharjah International Airport in 2009, killing the six crewmen. The four-engined plane plunged into a deserted stretch of land near Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club, narrowly missing several roads.

"We would like to know what has happened but until now we have not been told anything," said Ahmed Mohammed Ali, the son of the pilot, Capt Mohammed Ali.

"We believe that the report should be sent to the families and published in the press by the concerned aviation authorities. However, we have not been provided with any details and have been going back and forth between different departments since the crash."

The investigation by the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) and the Sudanese Civil Aviation Authority, with assistance from the US National Transportation Safety Board, has focused on the cargo plane's four turbofan engines, which were at least 24 years old.

An interim report released by the GCAA last January showed no evidence of an in-flight fire and said the aircraft exploded and burned because of the fuel on board. The accident was ruled non-survivable.

Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, the director general of the GCAA, said the wreckage was sent to Miami in the US to be examined. The investigation there focused on one engine.

"Engine number four was examined … in the presence of the GCAA and NTSB investigators," Mr Al Suwaidi said. "The engine teardown showed explicit rubbing marks as an indication of engine rotation prior to the impact."

The engine is suspected to have either failed with a loss of thrust, or been switched into "thrust reversal" mode while at high power, which allows little time for a pilot to react, the interim report said.

No Boeing 707 flights have entered the country since the accident, Mr Al Suwaidi said. And 11 operators with 48 aircraft have been banned from UAE skies over safety concerns.

Aircraft from five countries have been banned and operators from two other nations require approval before entering UAE airspace, he said.

"The accident and other incidents and accidents of foreign aircraft raised the need for making new regulations concerning foreign operators," Mr Al Suwaidi said.

The families of the crew have not all received compensation in the time since the accident, Mr Ali said.

"Two or three families are still awaiting the insurance payouts," he said.

Mr Ali said the crewmen were hired from several companies that either did not insure them or were finalising payments.

Capt Ali's family has been compensated, but Mr Ali said he was still waiting for answers.

"For the first seven months we were in shock and disillusioned, but afterwards we went to find out the reasons but no one has given us any yet," he said.

"I have always been trying to reconstruct what has happened to understand it.

"This has been a very turbulent mental and emotional ride. Whenever I board a plane I am reminded of what has happened, and that is very hard."

The crash has also affected Azza Air Transport, the company that owned the plane.

Capt Aidarous Al Tayeb, the carrier's director of flight operations, said the ban on its operations in the UAE had hurt its bottom line.

"We flew regularly from Dubai and Sharjah to Khartoum and Nyala in Sudan and to Kano in Nigeria," Capt Al Tayeb said. "Although the economic crisis has affected the trade, this was a lucrative and profitable route for us."

He was also pessimistic about how long the investigation would take.

"Such an investigation has to be clear and concise, and I believe it may take up to five years before it's complete," Capt Al Tayeb said.

amustafa@thenational.ae