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Kazakhstan: Equipment, Language Problems Ruled Out As Cause Of Crash

New Delhi, 13 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - India says it has ruled out outdated equipment or language problems as possible causes of the world's worst mid-air collision in which some 350 people were killed.

A Saudi Arabia Airlines Boeing 747 and a Kazakh Ilyushin IL-76 wide-bodied cargo airliner collided last night some 80 kilometers west of New Delhi. There were no survivors among the 312 people aboard the Saudi airplane that had just taken off from New Delhi or among the 37 people on the KazAir plane that was preparing to land.

Eyewitnesses say they saw the flaming Saudi jumbo circle the area twice before veering away from houses and crashing into a field.

Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda says it is not yet clear whether the collision was due to pilot failure or air traffic control.

In Almaty, president of KazAir, Rustem Bekturov, said today the pilot of the Ilyushin was "very competent and had more than 1,000 flight hours." In Bekturov's words, "such pilots speak foreign languages very well."

The Kazakh government formally shut down the airline in August due to massive debts and following official criticism of poor safety standards.

Indian aviation officials say the transcript of the final exchange between the pilots of the two airliners and the air traffic controllers show that both pilots understood the ground instructions clearly.

Indian Air Safety Commissioner A.K. Chopra says the flight date recorder and the cockpit voice recorder were damaged during extraction from the wreckage.

Indian officials say at least 312 bodies have so far been retrieved from the wreckage.

Kazakhstan has dispatched a special commission to India to assist in the investigation of the mid-air collision yesterday between a Saudi jetliner and a Kazakh plane.

The commission is headed by Acting Transport Department Chief, Salimov Bekbolat. Other members of the commission are Kazakh security officials and a representative of the Kazakh national airlines. Kazakh airline officials say reports are groundless that have suggested their pilot could not understand English-language instructions, or might have failed to convert directions given in feet to meters.

Our correspondent in Bishkek reports the Kazakh aircraft that collided with a Saudi airliner yesterday over India was chartered by a Kyrgyz company "Liza Obersiv." Authorities in Bishkek says 13 of the 38 people on board the Kazakh plane were from Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry plans a statement on the crash today.

Officials in India say they believe the other dead from the Kazakh plane are either from Kazakhstan or Russia.