Air Emergency (2003– )
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Sight Unseen 

One of the most horrifying mid-air collisions in history happened over India in 1996. Finding the chain of mishaps and unfortunate events is not easy for the investigators.


James Hyslop


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Episode credited cast:
Stephen Bogaert ... Narrator (voice)
Ash Knight Ash Knight ... VK Dutta
Saad Siddiqui ... Captain Al Shubailey
Elie Gemael ... First Office rKahn
Christian McKenna ... Captain Place
Osn Ral Osn Ral ... AK Verma
Sam Moses Sam Moses ... KPS Nair
Brad Siciliano Brad Siciliano ... Igor Ripp
Vladimir Radian Vladimir Radian ... Captain Cerepanov
Vas Saranga ... Vishnu Som (as Vasanth Saranga)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Gary Biggar Gary Biggar ... Frank Zkar
V.K. Dutta V.K. Dutta ... Himself (as VK Dutta)
K.P.S. Nair K.P.S. Nair ... Himself (as Captain KPS Sair)
Tim Place Tim Place ... Himself
Peter Sheppard Peter Sheppard ... Himself


One of the most horrifying mid-air collisions in history happened over India in 1996. Finding the chain of mishaps and unfortunate events is not easy for the investigators.

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

mid air collision | See All (1) »







Release Date:

11 November 2009 (Canada) See more »

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It goes under the episode title "Crash Course". See more »

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User Reviews

Wrong Place, Wrong Time.
14 January 2017 | by rmax304823See all my reviews

1996. An Air Saudi jumbo takes off from crowded Indira Ghandi Airport at New Delhi. Everything is normal until a mid-air collision with an approaching Kazhakistan flight that's supposed to be at 1,000 feet higher in altitude. Everyone aboard both flights perishes and the wrecks land in fields seven kilometers apart. The destruction and mutilation are appalling. Three hundred people died. It was at the time the worst aircraft accident in history.

Investigators immediately look at three possible sources of error: (1) the young air traffic controller; (2) the pilots; (3) instrument failure.

One can only imagine the pressure put upon Dutta, the ATC, but it was found that he'd followed strict procedure, advising the Kazhak plane to remain 1,000 feet above the departing Saudi. Dutta, without suitable radar, had no way of knowing whether either airplane was following his guidance. Attention turned to the cockpit voice recorder (which records chat and radio transmissions from the flight deck, along with any suggestive background noises) and the flight data recorder (which prints information about the altitude, course, and control surfaces). The two boxes are quickly retrieved but it will take time to interpret the data.

Other evidence reveals that instead of being above the Saudi plane, the Kashak plane was below it and crashed into it, taking off several yards of the Saudi's tail. The black boxes from the two aircraft are sent to England for analysis to avoid any hint of bias. The Saudi flight had leveled off at 14,000 feet, as instructed. The Kazhak airplane, on the other hand, had not stopped descending at their assigned altitude of 15,000 feet but continued dropping until it was 100 feet below the Saudi flight.

The Kazhak cockpit voice recorder shows that the pilot reported to the ATC at New Delhi that they had reached their assigned altitude of 15,000 feet -- but the report was wrong. A comparison of the two Kazhak black boxes shows that the airplane was at 16,000 feet, not 15,000, as the pilot apparently thought. At the time of this incident, Kazhakstan was still part of Russia, a small country with ill-trained pilots who were not fluent in English, the language of international aviation. Apparently, the pilot thought that HE had been cleared to 14,000 feet and his independent radio operator corrected him too late. In a hasty attempt to climb to 15,000 feet, the Kazhak pilot pulled back the controls, ascended rapidly, and sawed off the Saudi tail.

There were contributory causes. The technology available to Dutta, the ATC, was outdated. The radar gave Dutta the position of traffic but not altitude or identification. The upgraded equipment was already at the airport but had never even been unpacked. It took two more years before the upgrade was completed and other changes made that improved the safety of the airport.

As is typical, the program is presented in three elements: reenactments, sometimes quite convincing; expert and eyewitness testimony; and graphics, including maps and computer-generated images. Overall, it's a better-than-average series, informative as well as dramatic.

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