Friday, January 16, 2015

Air Asia pilots did not scream ‘Allahuakhbar’

A popular story going around the internet today is that the cockpit voice recorder, one of the “black boxes,” from Air Asia Flight 8501 revealed the chilling last words of the pilots. In the story, typically attributed to Yahoo News Singapore, claims that a National Transportation Safety Committee investigator revealed the last words of the pilots to be “Allahuakhbar, Allahuakhbar.” The implication from American news outlets that have picked up the Yahoo story is that the Air Asia crash was the result of Islamic terrorism. Investigation by Examiner reveals that this is not true. At the very least, the claim is premature.

The Yahoo article is an almost word-for-word copy of an earlier article from the New Straits Times, an English language newspaper published in Malaysia. A pundit from The Right Scoop noted that Yahoo had omitted a crucial detail from their version of the story.

In the NST story, the investigator, Nurcahyo Utomo, says, “It is as if we can feel them... Allahuakhbar, Allahuakhbar were the last words said before they died.” Yahoo repeats this quote in its entirety.

The NST description of the quote was “he said referring to his experience analising [sic] black boxes from past crashes.” The Yahoo article omitted this entire phrase, leaving readers with the impression that the quote came from the Air Asia pilots rather than pilots of crashes that Utomo had previously investigated.

When viewed in the context of the entire article, it is clear that Utomo has not yet analyzed the cockpit voice recorder from the Air Asia crash. The lead sentence of the story says that analyzing the data will – note the future tense – be difficult for Utomo because he knew the pilot personally.

The last sentence quotes Utomo as saying, “I could not imagine how I am going to listen to his last words.” Again, the article and Utomo himself use future tense, implying that he has not yet heard the recording of the last words.

In its entirety, the article discusses Utomo’s past experiences with crash investigations and listening to cockpit voice recordings. “Listening to the playback of a black box involved in a crash is not like listening to music or a discussion,” he said. “We are listening to a recording that represents the last moments before the crash and it is disturbing. There are times where the investigators would get unnerved listening to the recording.”

The NST article goes on to say, “analysing [sic] the recording while listening to their final words like ‘Allahuakhbar’ repeatedly, give the investigators goose bumps” according to Utomo.

While it is possible that the Air Asia pilots said “Allahuakhbar” before they died, there is no indication that the cockpit voice recorder and other black boxes have already been examined. The absence of this story from the mainstream American media and its presence only on blog-type sites should be an indication of its lack of credibility.

Read the full article on Aviation Examiner

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