July 24, 2008 / 7:02 AM / 12 years ago

Indonesian pilot charged with causing crash

SLEMAN, Indonesia (Reuters) - The pilot of a Garuda Indonesia aircraft that crashed at Yogyakarta airport last year killing 21 people was charged on Thursday with negligence and deliberately causing an accident.

Captain Marwoto Komar, the pilot of a Garuda Indonesia aircraft that crashed at Yogyakarta airport last year, listens to the prosecutors during a trial in Sleman in central Java July 24, 2008. REUTERS/Dwi Oblo

Prosecutor Mudim Aristo told a five-judge panel that Captain Marwoto Komar deliberately ignored warning signals from an onboard warning system and his co-pilot, force-landing the Boeing 737 which skidded off the runway and burst into flames.

The plane had 140 people on board. Both pilots survived the crash.

“The defendant deliberately and against the law caused an accident, destroyed and damaged a plane which led to deaths,” Aristo said.

“He deliberately force-landed the plane by diving down in a steep manner until the Ground Proximity Warning System gave off a signal ‘sink rate, whoop, whoop, pull up’.”

He said Komar ignored 15 GPWS warnings as well as his co-pilot’s warning and brought the plane into the sharp dive, causing it to drop suddenly by 1,600 feet per minute compared with a normal 1,000 feet per minute and to overshoot the runway.

The plane’s front wheel snapped off. It bounced three times, skidding on the runway, crossed an airport fence and a public road and then hit a dyke before bursting into flames, the prosecutor said.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country has suffered a string of airline disasters in recent years, raising concerns about safety standards and prompting the European Union to ban all Indonesian airlines from its airspace.

The country’s airline industry has grown rapidly in the past decade following liberalization, raising questions over whether safety has been compromised and if its infrastructure and personnel can cope with the huge increase.

The Garuda crash happened less than three months after an Adam Air aircraft disappeared with 102 passengers and crew on board off Sulawesi island.

Under the Indonesian Criminal Code a charge of deliberately causing an accident carries a maximum sentence of life.

But Komar’s lawyer, Muhammad Assegaf, said the pilot should not be tried under the code but under aviation laws, which carry a maximum five-year jail sentence for the offence.

Komar said in court that he refused to accept the charges and would file a legal defense next month.

Last year, a report by the National Transport Safety Commission said the pilot ignored 15 warnings as he descended too rapidly, but declined to attribute the crash to “human error” or “pilot error”.

Five Australians — two policemen, a diplomat, a journalist and an aid official — among the casualties were part of a group accompanying then Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who was not on board the plane, on a visit to Indonesia.

Writing by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Sugita Katyal and Valerie Lee

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