Conversation between pilots and air traffic controllers obtained by Italian media

Pilot unions have reacted with dismay after audio from the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) of the Tuninter ATR 72 that ditched off the coast of Sicily in August 2005 was leaked to the Italian media.

The four-and-a-half minute recording, which details the conversation between the pilots and air traffic control in Palermo, had been in the custody of the Sicilian public prosecutor's office as part of a judicial investigation into the accident. Details of the court's report into the accident were also published on Italian newswire ANSA's website.

The source of the leak is not known, but Italy's air accident investigation agency ANSV has distanced itself from the controversy, as the release of the recording breaches International Civil Aviation Organisation standards for accident investigation.

"CVRs are tools for accident investigation only, their use for anything else is morally and ethically wrong," says the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations (IFALPA). It adds that "aside from satisfying a voyeuristic streak in some elements of the media, there is no reason to release the content or the recording to the public at large. To leak a CVR recording is unprofessional, and doesn't serve to aid the investigation or indeed air safety as a whole."

ANSV's own technical investigation into the crash is expected to be completed in around two months. The agency has already made three safety recommendations to the European Aviation Safety Agency as a consequence of the accident.

ANSV says it is "strongly determined to take all the necessary initiatives so that the CVR recordings will be adequately protected from further disclosure for purposes other than accident investigation". The investigation agency adds that some of the "dramatic and emotional" recordings are not relevant to the accident investigation.

Fifteen passengers and one member of the cabin crew were killed when the Tuninter ATR 72, en route from Bari to Djerba, ditched off the coast of Sicily in August 2005 after suffering fuel exhaustion. The crew did not receive a low-fuel warning because the ATR 72 was fitted with a fuel-quantity indicator designed to be fitted to the smaller ATR 42.

What the pilots said

Captain (Chafik Garbi): "Please confirm the distance."

Palermo ATC: "20."

Captain: "Please confirm the distance."

Palermo ATC: "The distance is now 20 miles."

Captain: "I think... we are not able, we are not able to reach the terrain. We are 4,000ft and we are not able, we lose both engines. Can you send for us helicopters or something like that? Quick, quick, quick."

Less than three and a half minutes remain before the aircraft ditches. Co-pilot Lassoued Alì Kebaier reads technical instructions aloud and calls for the cabin and cockpit to prepare for the ditching. 

Source: Flight International