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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

India Blames Kazakh Jet Pilot For Collision That Killed 349

NEW DELHI, India -- A Kazakh Airlines pilot's failure to understand instructions from air controllers was one of the main causes of the world's worst midair collision two years ago, an Indian investigation has concluded.

A total of 349 people were killed in November 1996 when a Kazakh Airlines Ilyushin-76 coming in to New Delhi collided with a Saudi Arabian Boeing 747 that had just taken off.

There were no survivors of the collision, which caused the aircraft to erupt intoa fireball and left a trail of debris seven kilometers long and two kilometers wide on the ground.

The report of an investigation under Justice R.C. Lahoti said the civil-military air traffic control coordination in India suffers from "serious shortcoming which adversely affect air safety in India."

However, referring to the direct causes of the collision, the report of several hundred pages said the air traffic controller had issued clear and correct instructions to the pilots.

"The root and approximate cause of the collision was the unauthorized descending by the Kazakh aircraft to FL-140 and failure to maintain the assigned FL-150," it said.

FL stands for flight level. FL-140 means 4,270 meters above ground, the altitude at which the planes collided.

It said that among the factors contributing to the unauthorized descent of the Kazakh aircraft were the pilot's "inadequate knowledge of English language," which resulted in misinterpretation of air traffic controllers' instructions.

The report said that nearly 30 seconds before the collision, both aircraft entered a cloud layer and felt some turbulence, but their visibility was not affected.