Indonesian police hand over Garuda Indonesia Flight 200 report to prosecutors

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Police in Indonesia have forwarded a 200-page brief concerning the Garuda Indonesia Flight 200 disaster to prosecutors. The move comes as an indication that the trial of pilot-in-command Captain Marwoto Komar is set to commence within weeks.

Photo of a Garuda Indonesia Boeing 737-400.

The March 7, 2007 crash of a Boeing 737-400 at Yogyakarta International Airport killed 21 people. 119 others were able to escape the burning wreckage after the plane overshot the runway, going through the perimeter fence and crossing a road and an embankment to come to rest in a paddy field. Most of the deceased were Indonesians, with five from neighbouring Australia also killed.

A final report was later issued after an investigation by Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) in October 2007. The report blamed pilot error for the crash, finding that the airliner had touched down at roughly twice the accepted safe landing speed, and that Komar was "fixated" on landing and "probably emotionally aroused". The Cockpit Voice Recorder indicated that he ignored fifteen activations of the Ground Proximity Warning System and a call from his co-pilot for a 'go-around' as the plane touched down. A number of other criticisms were also leveled at the airport, the airline and transport politicians for contributing factors.

Komar is to be prosecuted over the crash for negligence. His earlier arrest - which he was subsequently released from pending full charges - sparked protests from Indonesian aviation groups and criticism from international groups, including IFALPA, a powerful international airline pilots' association.

Evidence in his trial is set to include documentational evidence and aircraft wreckage, but it is unclear whether it will include the NTSC report. Much controversy was caused by the suggestion it may be used, since international regulations limit the use of materials intended for safety investigations as evidence to prove liability in criminal or civil cases.

Kamal Firdaus, council for the pilot, explained what this means for his client: "Today the documentation has been officially accepted by the prosecutor," adding, "I suspect from this it will be two to three weeks until it is handed over to the court - that's the usual practice. Usually the first hearing is two weeks after that." Firdaus commented that it would be "difficult" for liability to be established and that, "we are ready and it will be a very interesting legal case, so let's see what will happen in the court."

Komar, 45, is believed to be the first pilot prosecuted over an air accident in Indonesia despite the country's poor aviation safety record. He is being charged with three counts of negligence, but the potential sentence is unclear, as Aero-News reports that he could face life imprisonment while The Age says he can face up to seven years' imprisonment. His case is considered a landmark, with aviation groups believing his trial may set the precedent for pilots involved in future accidents.

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