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Published On: Thu, Dec 8th, 2016

Bolivia Detained LaMia CEO – Airline Grounded After Fatal Crash in Colombia

nsnbc : Bolivian authorities detained Gustavo Vargas and two other employees of the Bolivia-based Lamia airline. All three were taken to a prosecutor’s office in Santa Cruz for questioning. The airline has been grounded.

LaMia Avro RJ85 registered P4-LOR at Glasgow Airport, UK. This aircraft was registered as CP-2933 in January 2015 and crashed in the LaMia Airlines Flight 2933 accident in November 2016. Courtesy Graham, CC-BY-SA-2.0

LaMia Avro RJ85 registered P4-LOR at Glasgow Airport, UK. This aircraft was registered as CP-2933 in January 2015 and crashed in the LaMia Airlines Flight 2933 accident in November 2016. Courtesy Graham, CC-BY-SA-2.0

75 of 81 on board an Aerocivil Avro RJ85 operated by LaMia were killed in the crash near the Colombian city of Medellin on Tuesday, November 28, 2016.

Colombia’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) officially confirmed that the plane didn’t have mandatory fuel reserves on board. However, further investigations and statements show that there may have been other factors involved, possibly implicating air traffic controllers, and a biased Bolivian official who is the son of the airline’s owner, confirming almost immediately after the crash that the plane’s maintenance record and all licenses were “O.K.”.

Gustavo Vargas and two other, unnamed employees of the Bolivia-based airline were taken to a prosecutor’s office in Santa Cruz for questioning. Three days after the Nov. 28 crash, Bolivia’s Public Works Ministry suspended Lamia Airline’s license and launched an investigation into its owners. As mentioned above, the son of the main owner of Lamia, Gustavo Vargas Villages, is the director of the DGAC.

Audio leaked by Air Traffic Controllers shows that the aircraft had declared a fuel emergency and ran out of fuel before it crashed into a hillside. Celia Castedo, a Bolivian air traffic official, who is currently seeking asylum in Brazil, said she warned the pilot of the fuel problem before departure. Bolivian authorities on Tuesday demanded Brazil expel Castedo, saying she illegally bypassed migration controls on her way out of the country in an attempt to flee justice.

Courtesy El Colombiano.

Courtesy El Colombiano.

The leak of the audio by Colombian air traffic controllers may still add another perspective. Investigations are currently ongoing to see whether the air traffic controllers edited the audio. The landing had been delayed due to an unscheduled arrival of a VivaColombia flight, forcing the crew of the charter flight to wait in a holding pattern.

The Avro RJ85 initially mentioned an “issue with fuel” while communicating with Medellin airport’s air traffic control (ATC). The air traffic controller responded saying that the runway at Medellin would re-open in about seven minutes and suggested will be given priority to land over other flights operated by Avianca.

The flight was assigned FL210 but declared a fuel emergency 2 minutes later, which prompted ATC to assign the aircraft an approach path while warning the crew of other aircraft below and ahead of it. However, the crew said they were already below the other aircraft, which were holding at FL180. Some 4-5 minutes after declaring a fuel emergency. Then the crew alerted ATC to a “total electrical and fuel failure” and repeatedly shouted: “Give me vectors”.

Colombia’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Aerocivil’s Secretary of Aviation Safety Freddy Bonilla went on the record, saying that he can assure that “the aircraft did not operate with the mandatory fuel reserves mandated by international regulations”. However, Bonilla also commented on the possibility that the audio could have been altered to cover faults committed by the air traffic controllers, saying: “We are working with specialists from Bolivia, Brazil, the UK and the US to reach the final conclusions as soon as possible”. It would not be “uncommon” for air traffic controllers to prioritize a national flight, in this case an unscheduled VivaColombia flight higher than a foreign charter flight.

CH/L & A/N  – nsnbc 08.12.2016

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