Three trainee commercial pilots are under investigation for negligence which allegedly caused the death of their colleague whose light aircraft crashed in the jungles of Terengganu in August. Investigations conducted by the Department of Civil Aviation also revealed attempts by the trainee pilots to cover up events leading to the crash which claimed the life of 20-year-old Muhammad Ariff Ahmad Fuad.
It was revealed that Ariff and his pilot, who were in one aircraft, were involved in a game with a second aircraft which broke all training rules. Both aircraft were Diamond Star DA40 light aircraft.
The two aircraft took off from Sultan Mahmud Airport in Terengganu for "instrument training" but soon after being airborne, took to games in the sky.
The training required both aircraft to cruise at a high altitude but this was allegedly not adhered to.
What was more shocking was that soon after the crash, the second aircraft returned to base and the trainee pilots went missing for three days.
It was only after investigators discovered that there were two aircraft involved in the training did the pilot and the co-pilot of the second aircraft surface to tell what had happened.
Ariff's pilot, who was injured in that incident, was also questioned at length and it is now learnt that the three trainees have been suspended.
A source revealed that instead of helping out in the investigations, the two pilots in the second aircraft went missing for three days.
"Investigations showed that not only were both planes flying very low but also the pilots were believed to have been engaged in some game," said the source.
"It was during one of their manoeuvres that the plane in front crashed into the jungle below.
"The pilots in the second aircraft witnessed the crash but it took them a few days to reveal what happened," he told the New Straits Times.
It is understood that all the trainee pilots would be dealt with under the regulations of the Department of Civil Aviation.
The source did not discount the possibility that the trainee pilots could also face criminal action as their negligence had led to the loss of a life.
The four trainee pilots are believed to be students of a Langkawi-based flying school. Ariff's plane went off the radar shortly after taking off at 4.40pm on Aug 20.
The wreckage was found about 8km from Bukit Bidong Darat, near Setiu.
Ariff, who was pinned to his seat, was believed to have been killed on impact. The pilot Mohd Farid Abdullah, 21, who suffered serious injuries, survived 14 hours of agony before being found near the wreckage the next morning. He had managed to crawl eight metres away from the wreckage.
Rescuers sought help from residents of Rhu Tapai, a residential area for the hardcore poor, about four kilometres away, to locate the crash scene. The residents had earlier informed the rescuers that they saw a low-flying aircraft in the area.
The principal of the flying school refused to comment when asked if the trainee pilots had been suspended.
By Farrah Naz Karim 2008/10/23