JAKARTA (Reuters) - The pilot of a Garuda Indonesia aircraft that crashed at Yogyakarta airport killing 21 people last year has been arrested by police on charges that include manslaughter, his lawyer said on Tuesday.
Captain Marwoto Komar, who was arrested on Monday after eight hours of interrogation, was also charged with other offences including violating aviation law and could face more than five years in jail, the pilot’s lawyer Muhammad Assegaf said. The Boeing 737, with 140 people on board, bounced and skidded off the runway in the central Javanese town of Yogyakarta before bursting into flames in a rice field in March 2007.
Both pilots survived the crash, which happened less than three months after an Adam Air aircraft disappeared with 102 passengers and crew on board off Sulawesi island.
“We think there is no basis for his arrest,” Assegaf said by telephone, “I believe his arrest has raised a lot of eyebrows among the global aviation community.”
Last year a report by the National Transport Safety Commission said the pilot ignored 15 warnings as he descended too rapidly, but declined to attribute the crash to “human error” or “pilot error”.
The committee’s report said the aircraft “was flown at an excessive air speed and steep flight path angle during the approach and landing, resulting in an unstabilised approach”.
Five Australians — two policemen, a diplomat, a journalist and an aid official — were among the casualties. They were part of a group that had been accompanying then Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who was not on board the plane, on a visit to Indonesia.
About 30 pilots staged a protest at the parliament building in Jakarta, demanding police release Komar immediately and calling for a separate tribunal for aviation offences.
“The criminalisation of pilots will put pilots under pressure in carrying out their job,” the chairman of the Indonesian Pilots Federation, Manotar Napitupulu, said in a statement read out before legislators.
A copy of the arrest warrant handed out by the pilots’ federation said Komar was accused of negligence causing deaths and destruction of an airplane. He would be detained for 20 days.
Stephanus Gerardus, who heads Garuda’s pilots’ association, said the arrest was unlawful as it was based on some of the findings published by the National Transport Safety Committee.
Indonesian officials have previously said that under International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) rules the results of an investigation by a country’s transport safety commission could not be used as evidence in court.
Police could not immediately be contacted to comment on the arrest.
Rapid growth in air travel in Indonesia, a country of more than 17,000 islands, has raised questions over whether safety has been compromised and whether the infrastructure and personnel can cope with the huge increase.