Thursday, July 24, 2008

Garuda pilot goes on trial for 2007 crash at Yogyakarta

Garuda Pilot Marwoto KomarThe trial of Marwoto Komar began today in Indonesia. The former Garuda Indonesia captain is being tried as a criminal for allegedly causing a plane crash in which 21 people died. He could be sentenced to life in prison if he is convicted. The trial is expected to run for several months.

Marwoto Komar is believed to be first pilot to face criminal charges arising from an aircraft accident in Indonesia. He is charged with three counts of negligence and one count of deliberately destroying or damaging an aircraft, and causing death.

The Reuters news agency reported that in the course of the first day of the trial's proceedings in Sleman, on the island of Java, Prosecutor Mudim Aristo told a five-judge panel, "The defendant deliberately and against the law caused an accident, destroyed and damaged a plane which led to deaths."

Marwoto Komar has reportedly refused to accept the charges. His defense attorney, Muhammad Assegaf, maintains that Komar should not be tried under the Indonesian Criminal Code. Instead he should be subject to discipline under aviation laws. Many in the worldwide aviation community support this view, and are in fact appalled that criminal proceedings are being pursued in this case.


Marwoto Komar was the pilot in command of Garuda Indonesia Flight GA200, a Boeing 737-400 that overran a runway at Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 2007, and burst into flames, killing 21 of the people on board. An investigation of the accident by Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) concluded, in essence, that the crash occurred due to pilot error. (See the NTSC's English Language Media Release about the GA 200 accident investigation for descriptive details.)

In February of this year, Marwoto Komar was arrested and charged with manslaughter. At that time, the Federation of Indonesian Pilots (FPI) immediately protested the arrest, and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations (IFALPA), an advocacy group representing more than 100,000 pilots in more than 95 countries worldwide, issued a statement in which they expressed concern about the criminalization of individuals involved in aviation accidents and incidents. Both the FPI and IFALPA contend that the criminal prosecution of Marwoto Komar and other pilots in such circumstances does little to promote air safety, and instead "may well foreclose further investigation for safety purposes."

Citing Attachment E of ICAO Annex 13, IFALPA "strongly insisted" that the principles "which hold that there should be no criminal liability without intent to do harm, be the standard to which the crew is held." This point of view is widely shared within the aviation community.

Criminalization of Accidents

The criminal proceedings against Marwoto Komar set a dangerous precedent. Clearly, if pilots believe they will face criminal prosecution over an accident, why would they ever cooperate with an investigation of the accident? The purpose of such trials as the present one seems to be to assign blame and exact punishment, a strategy which, at the end of the day, is seen as counterproductive to aviation safety.

Earlier this year, the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) sponsored a panel discussion about criminal prosecutions in the wake of aircraft accidents at the European Aviation Safety Seminar in Bucharest, Romania. A press release announcing the event included the following statement:
"We are very concerned about recent attempts by prosecutors to turn accidents into crime scenes and to prosecute aviation professionals based on tragic mistakes, often using information and data that are provided voluntarily to improve aviation safety," said FSF President and CEO William R. Voss. "The safety of the traveling public depends on encouraging a climate of openness and cooperation following accidents. Overzealous prosecutions threaten to dry up vital sources of information and jeopardize safety."
Aircrew Buzz will continue to report new developments in this case as they occur.

RELATED: Click here to view all posts about Garuda Flt 200 on Aircrew Buzz.

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