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Monday, September 29, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Indonesian Pilot Was Confused Before Crash

AP

JAKARTA, Indonesia - The pilot of a downed Indonesian jetliner and the control tower miscommunicated over which way to turn as the plane made its fatal approach to the airport, according to a transcript of the conversation released today.

Haze that enshrouded the airport, caused by hundreds of forest and brush fires on Indonesia, is one of the possible causes being investigated in Friday's crash, which killed all 234 aboard.

The last 90 seconds of the conversation showed repeated misunderstanding about which direction the pilot, Rachmo Wiyogo, was turning his Garuda Airbus A3000B-4 and what the air-traffic controller was telling him.

The transcript included the following exchange between the pilot, identified as "GIA 152," and the air-traffic controller:

Air-traffic controller: GIA 152 turn right heading 046 report established localizer.

Pilot: Turn right heading 040 GIA 152 check established.

Air-traffic controller: Turning right, sir.

Pilot: Roger 152.

Air-traffic controller: 152 Confirm you're turning left now?

Pilot: We are turning right now.

Air-traffic controller: 152 OK, you continue turning left now.

Pilot: A (pause) confirm turning left? We are starting turning right now.

Air-traffic controller: OK (pause) OK.

Air-traffic controller: GIA 152 continue turn right heading 015.

Pilot: Screaming, "Allahu akbar!" (God is great!)

Also today, 48 unidentified victims of Indonesia's worst crash were buried in a mass grave. The other 186 people killed when the plane slammed into the jungle near Medan airport were identified and their bodies were taken by relatives for burial elsewhere, officials said.

The flight from Jakarta flew most of its way through a dense smog that has blanketed much of Indonesia and Malaysia in recent weeks due to forest and brush fires.

Before the release of the radio transcripts today many experts and pilots said earlier it was unlikely that a loss of visibility could have caused the accident, because pilots are trained to fly "blind" on instruments and modern airliners are well-equipped for instrument flying.

But Japanese aviation experts say smog could have affected the airplane in a different manner.

"It is a well-known fact that jet and turboprop engines can fail when they fly through volcanic smoke," said Yasutomo Aoki, an aviation commentator and former editor of the magazine Aviation Journal.

Particles can block small coolant holes on the surface of engine blades, which causes overheating.

Some 10,000 Malaysian and Indonesian firefighters are trying to douse the blazes on Sumatra and in Kalimantan, Indonesia's half of Borneo island.

Heavy rain and strong winds drove smog from Malaysia's Borneo island state of Sarawak today, and air quality in peninsular Malaysia improved from unhealthy to moderate.

People threw face masks aside in Sarawak's riverside capital of Kuching, where the atmosphere was almost carnival-like after the government lifted a 10-day emergency imposed because of the pollution.

The crash was one of several recent disasters to hit Indonesia.

At least two ship collisions occurred last week because of low visibility in the busy Strait of Malacca, which separates Sumatra from peninsular Malaysia.

Navy frogmen were scouring the site of Friday's collision between a cargo vessel and oil tanker in the smog-shrouded Strait.

Twenty-nine crew members are still missing.

A magnitude-6 earthquake shook the island of Sulawesi early yesterday, killing 16 and injuring 331.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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