Garuda Crash Pilot Faces Life over ‘Causing Disaster’

YOGYAKARTA ~ The pilot of a Garuda Indonesia jet that crashed last year, killing 21 people, was charged on Thursday with deliberately causing the disaster.

Marwoto Komar, a former captain with the flag carrier, could face life in prison if convicted of the charge.

He was named a suspect in February over the March 2007 crash of the Boeing 737 with 140 people on board in the central Java city of Yogyakarta.

Prosecutors Mudin Aresto and Jamin Susanto charged Komar with three counts of negligence and one of “deliberately” destroying or damaging an aircraft causing death.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The hearing opened with the charges being read out and was then adjourned until August 4, when the defense will reply.

Komar’s lawyer, Muhammad Assegaf, said his client would fight the charges on the grounds that international civil aviation codes rule out criminal liability for pilots in crashes.

“We will at the very least question why the pilot is being criminalized for an accident. This has not yet happened anywhere in Indonesia or in the world,” Assegaf said.

“Punishing the pilot would give rise to fears among pilots that one day they could be treated as a criminal over an aircraft accident,” he added.

“It’s impossible that a pilot could do this deliberately.”

An official government report in November found Komar ignored 15 automated cockpit warnings not to land as he brought the plane in at roughly twice the safe speed, causing the jet to bounce and career off the runway and burst into flames in ricefields.

Four Australian government officials and an Australian journalist were among those killed in the crash while following a visit by then Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer, who was on a separate plane.

The Garuda pilot’s arrest has angered Indonesian pilots, who have staged protests arguing only aviation experts and not the legal system have the right to determine who was at fault in an accident.

Komar was fired by Garuda in February and has had his pilot’s license suspended.

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