Exactly 30 years ago today, on Monday, September 28, 1992, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Flight 268 crashed when approaching Kathmandu-Tribhuvan Airport (KTM). All 167 passengers and crew were killed, making it the deadliest ever crash involving PIA and the worst crash in the history of Nepalese aviation.
The aircraft involved in the accident was a 16-year-old Airbus A300 with the registration AP-BCP. The plane was delivered new to Bavaria Germanair on May 2, 1997, and leased a week later to Egyptian national flag carrier EgyptAir. Subsequently, it was sold to Hapag-Lloyd Flug following its merger with Bavaria Germanair and then leased to the following airlines:
- EgyptAir (January 1979 – October 1982)
- Kuwait Airways (April – July 1983)
- Capitol Air (June – October 1984)
- Air Jamaica (February – April 1985)
- Condor Flugdienst (May – November 1985)
PIA received the plane in 1986
Pakistan International Airlines received the plane on April 21, 1986. At the time, the aircraft had accumulated 39,045 flying hours and 19,172 flight cycles.
In charge of Pakistan International Airlines Flight 268 was 49-year-old Captain Iftikhar Janjua, who had 13,192 flight hours, 6,260 of which were on the Airbus A300. The First officer on the flight was 38-year-old Hassan Akhtar, who had 5,849 flight hours, of which 1,469 were on the Airbus A300. There were also two flight engineers aboard the plane, an unnamed 40-year-old male with 5,289 flight hours, of which 2,516 were on the Airbus A300, and 42-year-old Muhammad Ashraf, acting as an observer engineer. He had 8,220 flight hours, including 4,503 hours on the Airbus A300.
The flight path of PIA 268. Image: GCmaps
PIA Flight 268 departed Karachi International Airport (KHI) at 11:13 for a regularly 1,144-mile scheduled flight to the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu. For the most part, the 2-hour, 45-minute flight was uneventful. As the plane was nearing its destination, the crew contacted Nepal Air Traffic Control (ATC) and were cleared to approach from the south for a landing on Runway 02.
The plane was told to maintain an altitude of 11,500 feet and to report in when it had passed over a reporting point called “Romeo,” located 41 miles south of the airport. After passing the reporting point, the plane was told to descend in seven steps to a height of 5,800 feet. By using this approach correctly, the plane would have been able to fly over the Mahabharat mountain range south of Katmandu safely.
Shortly after reporting a distance measuring equipment (DME) height of 10,000 feet at 14:30, the plane crashed into the side of an 8,250-foot mountain. The aircraft disintegrated on contact, killing all 167 passengers and 19 crew members.
The investigation into PIA Flight 268
Shortly after the crash, the aircraft’s black box was found by the Nepalese military and sent to Paris for decoding. Eyewitnesses to the crash said that the weather conditions were acceptable, with no rain or thunderstorms in the area. Terrorism was ruled out, and after studying the planes, mechanical records found no signs that it could have been a technical problem.
When analyzing flight deck voice recordings, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB), assisting in the investigation, discovered that the crew had initiated the seven-step descent one step too early. By the time the plane reported it was at 10,000 feet, it was 1,300 feet below where it was cleared to be.
The conclusion was that the plane crashed mainly due to pilot error, and the ground proximity warning system did not sound soon enough due to the steepness of the terrain. In its conclusion, the International Civil Aviation Organization recommended that all navigational charts into Katmandu be standardized and that the approach to Katmandu Airport be less complex.