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Transcript in Air Collision That Killed 349 Showed All Appeared Normal

November 13, 1996

CHARKHI DADRI, India (AP) _ The flight controllers at New Delhi airport alerted a Kazak cargo plane that a Saudi jumbo jet was headed toward it and was only 14 miles away just before the two planes collided.

A transcript of the planes’ final moments released today by civil aviation authorities said the Kazak pilot asked: ``Report how many miles?″ The controller replied the Saudi plane had closed to 13 miles.

Moments later, the planes collided at dusk Tuesday about 60 miles west of New Delhi, killing all 349 people on board in the third-deadliest air crash ever.

The transcript showed the pilots had been given instructions for the Kazak plane to be at 15,000 feet as it approached Indira Gandhi International Airport and the Saudi airliner taking off was told to hold at 14,000 feet. There was no acknowledgement shown in the transcript.

Moments later, flaming wreckage from the collision struck the ground of this farming community.

According to control tower transcripts, both pilots acknowledged they were to fly at altitudes 1,000 feet apart _ 14,000 feet and 15,000 feet.

``It’s quite clear from the taped conversation that the crew of the two aircraft had understood and confirmed the instructions regarding heights given to them,″ said Yogesh Chandra, the top civil servant in India’s civil aviation ministry.

According to the transcript, these were the last exchanges between the tower and the Kazak pilot:

Kazak: Good evening. 1907. Passing through 230 (23,000 feet) for 180 (18,000 feet), 74 miles from DPN (Delhi).

Control Tower: Descend 150 (15,000 feet). Report reading.

Kazak: One-five-zero (15,000 feet).

Saudi: Approaching 100 (10,000 feet).

Control Tower: Cleared 140 (14,000 feet).

Saudi: Approaching level 140 (14,000 feet) for higher.

Control Tower: Maintain level 140 (14,000 feet). Stand by for higher.

Control Tower: KZA 1907 Report distance from DPN.

Kazak: Reached 150 (15,000 feet) 46 miles DPN. Radial 270.

Control Tower: Roger. Maintain 150 (15,000 feet). Identified traffic 12 o’clock reciprocal. Saudi Boeing 747, 14 miles. Report in sight.

Kazak: Kazak 1907, Report how many miles?

Control Tower: 14 miles now. Roger 1907.

Control Tower: Traffic in 13 miles, level 140 (14,000 feet).

Kazhak: 1907.

That was the final word from either plane.

In Charkhi Dadri, searchers found both planes’ flight data recorders and the Kazak craft’s voice cockpit recorder today, hoping the ``black boxes″ explain how the disaster happened during normal weather conditions, seven minutes after the Saudi Airlines Boeing 747 took off.

Experts say Russian-built planes like the Kazak craft often don’t have equipment that detects the altitudes of nearby aircraft. Such transponders are required for planes flying into Europe or the United States, said commercial pilot and aviation writer John Nance, based in Tacoma, Wash.

Grieving relatives went to makeshift morgues to try to identify the remains of their loved ones.

Most of the victims were badly burned or mangled, lying on blocks of ice and covered in sheets. A weeping Irene Colaso said she identified her 20-year-old daughter Sanim, a flight attendant on the Saudi plane, by her feet _ the rest of her body was burned beyond recognition.

Many of the victims were apparently Indian workers returning to jobs in the Middle East or making the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

Doctors said no one could have lived through the collision that turned the two aircraft into twin fireballs, incinerating many of the passengers before they hit the ground near this town of 50,000 residents. Wreckage and baggage were strewn across six miles.

``No living people were brought here,″ said R.S. Garg, chief of the Dadri Government Hospital. ``It is not possible to survive a fall from 15,000 feet.″

Seventeen foreigners, including two Americans and a Briton, were among the 312 passengers and crew on board the Saudi Arabia-bound jetliner. Their names and hometowns were not released.

Kazakstan Airlines officials said today that only 37 people were on board their aircraft, two less than the airline reported earlier, lowering the death toll from 351 to 349.

Wearing handkerchiefs and mufflers around their noses, searchers walked shoulder-to-shoulder across the fields, collecting severed limbs and bits of flesh and placing them on stretchers to be carried to nearby tractors.

Senior police official Maninder Singh Mann said 250 bodies were recovered. Most were mangled beyond recognition.

Speculation on the cause of the crash ranged from inadequate radar in the control tower at Indira Gandhi airport to a possible misunderstanding by one of the pilots because of language problems.

The Indian Express newspaper today quoted aviation officials as saying there recently had been 10 near-misses in India’s skies, most involving airlines from former Soviet republics. Many of the problems were blamed on the pilots’ poor understanding of English, the newspaper said.

The Ilyushin-76 cargo plane arriving from Shymkent in the former Soviet republic of Kazakstan. It had been chartered by a clothing company.

Remnants of the Saudi plane were spread across a three-square-mile area about six miles from the Kazak wreckage.

In 1977, two Boeing 747s operated by Pan American and KLM collided at the airport on Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands, killing 582 people. In 1985, a Japan Air Lines Boeing 747 crashed into a mountain on a domestic flight, killing 520.

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