Life lost amid irregularities
The captain of a Biman flight was napping in the crew rest area, leaving the cockpit of a Boeing 777-300ER technically unmanned, when a passenger had a heart attack.
No medical emergency was declared and the plane landed in Dhaka four hours after the incident. The passenger, Kabir Ahmed, a migrant from Noakhali, was pronounced dead on arrival at a city hospital.
This happened on January 15/16 during an overnight flight to Dhaka from Jeddah.
Aviation rules allow captains to take rest on flights longer than 8 hours but a relief crew, which is usually on standby, takes over.
There was no relief crew as this was only a 6-hour flight.
The cockpit is supposed to be manned by two pilots capable of flying the plane independently if required.
On this particular flight, Captain Dildar Ahmed Tufail was the pilot in command. He had Irfan Ul Haq beside him who was under training and not qualified to fly the Boeing.
The flight was actually Irfan's test flight.
Captain Fariduzzaman, a veteran pilot, who has not had a valid pilot's licence in years, since he is well over the age limit of 65, was evaluating Irfan from the jump seat in the cockpit.
Irfan failed his test that day. He was deemed "not eligible to fly in command for Boeing 777-300ER with multiple issues".
The issues included setting the wrong power settings and the wrong speed during turbulence, missing three cautions of the plane's annunciator panel, and missing clearance from the air traffic controller, according to his evaluation sheet.
So, when Captain Tufail went into the rest area, he left the plane in the hands of people who are not authorised to fly the plane. The cockpit was technically unmanned.
Biman was obligated to put a qualified first officer in the cockpit but it did not do so.
The Daily Star spoke to several crew members and civil aviation authority insiders with knowledge of the matter and they all confirmed the details while choosing to remain anonymous.
After Kabir suffered a heart attack, the chief purser went to the cockpit to notify the captain of the emergency and get an idea about when they would be making an emergency landing and where.
The chief purser realised that the captain was napping elsewhere.
A doctor on board, ABM Haroon, managing director of Samorita Hospital, told this paper the progression of events.
"The patient fell sick over an hour into the flight. The flight was about six hours and I was woken up by an announcement looking for a doctor on board. Half an hour before landing in Dhaka, the pilot came to me to tell me that we are flying over India, and asked if we should land there, which would take 20 minutes, or proceed to Dhaka which would take 30," he said.
He said the captain asked him if they should make an emergency landing over four hours after Kabir had the heart attack.
The doctor added that the patient was in critical condition and the cabin crew attempted to use whatever they had at their disposal to save him.
According to aviation rules, in such cases, a "medical emergency" is to be raised by the pilot, which notifies every nearby airport of a possible arrival with the need for emergency medical support.
However, Tufail did not divert or raise the alarm, confirmed civil aviation insiders looking into the event. The mandatory air safety report was also not filed after the flight.
Investigators also found that upon landing in Dhaka, it took a further 40 minutes to get Kabir out of the plane due to a lack of preparedness, since "medical emergency" was not declared.
He was still alive then.
Kabir's death certificate, issued by Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital, shows that he was brought in dead.
ATM Nazrul Islam, an aviation expert, told this newspaper that the pilots violated the rules.
"The pilot in command may leave his/her seat for a brief period of time in case of necessity but s/he cannot go to sleep in the crew rest bunk," he said, calling for an investigation.
Asked about all the irregularities and flouting of rules regarding the flight, CAAB chairman Air Vice Marshall Mafidur Rahman said, "We have asked Biman to investigate." He said CAAB would decide on the next course of action after receiving the Biman probe report.
Even though this paper called Captain Tufail repeatedly, he did not pick up the phone.
Irfan could be reached but he refused to comment on what had happened during the flight.