A Mozambican Airlines captain had a “clear intention” to crash an airplane that went down in Namibia killing 33 at the end of last month, according to a preliminary investigation reported on Saturday.
Flight recorders showed flight TM470 went down on Nov. 29 while Captain Herminio dos Santos Fernandes manipulated the Embraer 190’s autopilot in a way which “denotes a clear intention” to bring the plane down, Mozambican Civil Aviation Institute (IACM) head Joao Abreu said.
“The reason for all these actions is unknown and the investigation continues,” Abreu said.
The plane went down in torrential rains in the swamps of Namibia’s Bwabwata National Park on Nov. 29, killing its six crew and 27 passengers.
It was flying from the Mozambican capital, Maputo, to Luanda in Angola.
Abreu told a news conference that Dos Santos Fernandes locked himself inside the cockpit, ignored warning signals and did not allow his co-pilot back in moments before the Embraer 190 hit the ground.
“During these actions you can hear low and high-intensity alarm signals and repeated beating against the door with demands to come into the cockpit,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency AIM.
The altitude was manually changed three times from 11,500m to 180m — below ground level — and the aircraft’s speed was also changed manually, according to the preliminary report.
Airbrake parameters showed the spoilers, aerodynamic resistance plates on the wings, were deployed and held in that position until the end of the recordings, which proved the throttle was manually controlled.
“The plane fell with the pilot alert and the reasons which may have given rise to this behavior are unknown. At the time, the co-pilot had left the cockpit and was absent while everything happened,” Abreu said.
The black boxes retrieved from the crash site were analyzed at the US National Transport Safety Board in Washington.
These indicated the aircraft was operating at normal cruising altitude, and had good communications with the control tower in the Botswana capital, Gaberone, investigators said..
The Brazilian-manufactured aircraft was the newest plane in the Mozambican Airlines fleet.
The team of investigators includes experts from Botswana, Angola, Mozambique, Brazil, China, the US and Namibia.
Namibian investigators said earlier last week they had detected “no mechanical malfunction” that could have led to the crash.
Three weeks after the incident forensic experts have identified only seven of the 33 victims.
The passengers were from Mozambique, Angola, Portugal, Brazil, France and China.
Dos Santos Fernandes had 9,053 flight hours, of which 1,395 were as a captain.
His licence was renewed in April last year and he underwent a medical exam in September, according to Mozambican Airlines.
The accident is the deadliest for Mozambique since a plane carrying then-president Samora Machel crashed in 1986 in South Africa en route home from an African leaders’ summit.
That crash, which claimed at least 34 lives, remains a mystery, but speculation has lingered that it was linked to tensions with the then-apartheid regime in South Africa.
The EU banned Mozambican Airlines (LAM) and all air carriers certified in Mozambique from flying in its airspace in 2011, citing “significant safety deficiencies.”