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Wednesday, 9 February, 2000, 17:48 GMT
Pilots criticised for fleeing

The crew left up to 10 hijackers and 160 passengers

The captain and crew's decision to escape from the hijacked Afghan airliner has been condemned by fellow pilots and aviation experts.

Chris Yates, an aviation security expert with Jane's Transport, told BBC News Online that pilots had a "moral obligation" to stay with their aircraft in such situations, even if there was no legal obligation.

"Isn't the captain supposed to go down with the ship?"
"The pilot is the legal authority on board the aircraft from the moment passengers embark to the moment they disembark," he said.

"He has legal responsibility for the wellbeing of his passengers. Most pilots would stay with their passengers whatever the cost."

All commercial airlines - none of whom would comment for security reasons - train their pilots on how to behave in such situations.

Mr Yates said: "One of the things [pilots] are always taught is to do precisely as instructed by the hijackers.

"If they say land the plane, you land the plane. You don't attempt to tackle the hijackers, that sort of thing."

In most recent hijack situations, he said - citing the Indian Airlines hijack over Christmas - the accepted code had been followed and pilots had stayed while the situation was resolved.

'Dereliction of duty'

However, Richard Wright, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority, pointed out that the pilots were well outside their normal operational limits, and would not have been in a fit state to fly anyway.

"The requirement for the pilot is to be on board at all times when engines are running and the aircraft is in service," he said. "This is clearly not the case."

He added: "It's very easy to talk about moral obligation, but they may have had information which would have been useful to the security services."

Pilots on the bulletin board of the Professional Pilots Rumour Network were more blunt in their condemnation.

"Isn't the captain supposed to go down with the ship? Or do we get paid to be trained for such situations for no real reason?" one contributor asked.

'Not deranged fundamentalists'

"I can understand self-preservation kicking in, but I think they have a responsibility to the passengers which they seem to have forgotten about," said another contributor.

One said: "I cannot help feeling that this is on the face of it a gross dereliction of duty to his passengers and crew."

"He should know better than to disrupt an already fragile and sensitive situation," another said.

However, others were more moderate in their criticism, saying it "made sense" for the crew to flee.

"It does not appear as though this is a load of deranged fundamentalists seeking ridiculous demands," one said.

"The most important asset to the information. There have been a number of people released, but I would assume that the best source of information would come from the crew.

"Perhaps if the situation was more hostile towards the passengers, the crew may have acted differently?"

And others said it was difficult to judge the situation, without knowing what pressure the crew had been under.

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See also:
08 Feb 00 |  UK
Crew flee hijack plane
09 Feb 00 |  UK
Taleban arrests 10 over hijack
09 Feb 00 |  UK
The terror of hijack ordeal
07 Feb 00 |  South Asia
The view from Kabul
08 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Hijackers 'have not contacted Taleban'
07 Feb 00 |  UK
How to negotiate with hijackers
07 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Analysis: Who are the hijackers?
07 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Anxious wait for Afghan relatives

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