‘We hit something’ – pilot unaware of crash after landing clearance at Subang airport

Transport Minister Loke Siew Fook (third from right) at a press conference on his ministry’s preliminary findings on an accident at the Subang airport last month.

PUTRAJAYA: A Berjaya Air aircraft which was involved in a fatal collision with a car on the runway of the Subang airport last month had been given landing clearance by the control tower despite the presence of two vehicles, authorities investigating the incident said in their preliminary report today.

The report noted that the crew had exclaimed “We hit something” seconds after landing, but a cockpit recording suggests that they were not aware that the plane had hit a Perodua Kembara, killing its driver.

“In-depth investigation on the SOP for vehicles operating on the runway will be conducted, especially on special equipment that needs to be in the vehicle when it enters the runway, such as radio communication equipment and rotating beacons,” the transport ministry said in a statement on its preliminary findings today.

Mohd Ruzaimi Iskandar Ahmad Razali, 39, succumbed to injuries two days after the incident which occurred in the wee hours of the morning on March 18.

At a press conference on the incident today, Transport Minister Loke Siew Fook said the two air traffic controllers (ATCs) on duty at the time are still suspended.

At 12.50am that day, he said, the ATC on duty (shift 2) allowed a vehicle to enter the runway for lighting maintenance works. At 1am, another maintenance vehicle and an escort vehicle were allowed to enter the runway for painting works.

All communication between the escort vehicle and control tower was conducted via walkie-talkie, and the contractor’s vehicle, which was carrying three people, had no means of communicating with the control tower.

“At 2.15am, the ATC received a request from the contractor doing lighting maintenance to vacate the runway as they had finished their work,” Loke said.

That shift controller recorded in the tower logbook that maintenance works on runway had been completed and that all vehicles had vacated the runway despite there being two other vehicles there, that of the painting maintenance contractor and the escort vehicle.

Painting works were still ongoing at this point.

According to the contractor’s workers who had been carrying out the centreline painting works from threshold 15 to 33 of the runway, the escort vehicle initially followed close behind as they worked.

“After a while, the workers realised the escort vehicle was left behind for no apparent reason, and had remained static as far as 30m behind.”

At 3am, the ATC (shift 2) handed over his shift to ATC (shift 3) with no additional information other than what was in the logbook.

When the aircraft reported its position to the control tower to prepare for landing, the ATC looked out to check for any abnormal activities or unusual lighting to indicate vehicles present on the runway.

“Clearance for landing was given to the aircraft after the ATC was satisfied that the runway was clear for the aircraft to make a landing.”

As the plane was descending, the contractor’s workers realised that an aircraft was landing and got in their vehicles to drive away from the runway.

“While making a 180-degree turn, they realised the escort vehicle was still static at its last position.”

They flashed their headlights several times to attract its attention but observed no reaction.

Upon landing, the plane hit the escort vehicle which Razali had been in. The collision left him with severe head injuries.

On whether the authorities have established why Razali’s vehicle was stationary, Loke said this was still being investigated.

Air Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) head inspector Capt Yahaya Abdul Rahman, who was also present at the press conference, revealed that Razali’s seat had been reclined at the time.

An expert has been engaged to establish if the maintenance vehicle’s strobe lights were on.

However, Loke said it could not be concluded from this that Razali had been asleep.

Yahaya said the AIIB was looking into the application of a single controller shift from 12am to 6.30am and other recommendations to prevent a repeat of the incident.

Loke meanwhile said investigations are ongoing, with the full report to be completed in 11 months. For now, though, it was too early to pin blame on any party, he added.

He said the investigation would be transparent, and the preliminary report made publicly available.