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Pilot suicide, a disturbing phenomenon that has been attributed to half a dozen sudden and mysterious mid-air plane crashes, is dramatic but occurs rarely.
The China Eastern plane that nosedived into the ground in March, killing all 132 passengers and crew on board, was intentionally orchestrated by someone in the cockpit, the Wall Street Journal reported recently. Many in the aviation world were quick to interpret this finding as a case of pilot suicide.
Among the most well known accidents attributed to pilot suicide is that of the Malaysia Airlines flight in 2014 that instead of flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing reversed course and flew into the Indian Ocean until it likely ran out of fuel and went down.
Captain Ranganathan, retired pilot and aviation safety expert has been advocating that pilot suicide is indeed a problem and needs to be dealt with.
Pilot suicide does seem to be happening with some regularity. Countries that own these airlines baulk at recognizing or admitting to this problem. Chinese investigators, for instance, have refused to publicly go with US officials investigating the accident that involved Boeing, a US company. Malaysian authorities too have refused to give much credence to the pilot suicide theory.
Indian authorities and airline operators have taken no note of the problem or danger of pilot suicide, says Captain Ranganathan, retired pilot and aviation safety expert. Ranganathan has been advocating that these suicides are indeed a problem and need to be dealt with. Below is a Q&A with him.
Are Indian authorities and airlines aware of the problem of pilot suicide?*
They are not really aware of the danger. They are living on the presumption that it hasn’t happened and nothing needs to be done.
What steps are being taken, can be taken to address this problem?
No steps have been taken. They need to address the issue of financial stress and human factor issues of employees. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation is only interested in helping airlines without understanding the suicide possibility issue.
The Chinese airliner crash is only the latest in many accidents that is being attributed to pilot suicide. You have been vocal about this for many years now. What do you think has been going wrong with the pilot community?
Airlines’ HR departments must understand the human factor and financial stress of pilots. Airlines should seriously consider employing experts who can recognize the trend. If behavior pattern changes of pilots are recognized early, such accidents can be prevented.
Is pilot suicide specific to some nationalities or cultures? What is causing this?
One can’t generalize based on nationalities. Loss of face is a major issue. If a very senior man is humiliated, it can trigger this kind of reaction.
If behavior pattern changes of pilots are recognized early, such accidents can be prevented.
Are there telltale signs that a pilot exhibits? Can we be watchful?
Often casual conversations with colleagues can indicate the trend. Unfortunately, pilots won’t let on what about is happening to their colleagues even if they recognize.
Do you think it’s a problem that could happen to any country or culture?
It could happen anywhere.
How are investigators inferring pilot suicides?
All countries try to protect their reputation. They would attribute it to other causes but never admit pilot suicide.
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