MANAMA, Bahrain -- As Gulf Air Flight 072 approached Bahrain International Airport for a night landing, pilot Ihsan Shakeeb calmly requested a "go around" from air traffic controllers.
Shakeeb, an experienced pilot with more than 6,800 flying hours, circled Bahrain International Airport once, then aborted his landing attempt without explanation, according to Gulf Air officials on Friday.
Moments later, the Airbus 320 -- and its 143 passengers and crew -- disappeared from the radar. It had nose-dived into shallow waters off the north of Bahrain.
U.S. air accident experts were asked Friday to lead an investigation that will try to determine what happened between Shakeeb's aborting the landing Wednesday and the plane's crashing into the sea 60 seconds later.
Investigators were trying to work out why Shakeeb broke off his attempt to land, and why the plane crashed miles from the airport.
Gulf Air's chief pilot, Hameed Ali, said Friday that investigators would examine both the speed and altitude of Shakeeb's aborted landing.
"It is very important and I may add that intracockpit communications is even more important. We have not listened to that yet," Ali told a packed press conference.
But, Ali stressed, referring to the pilot, "we have spotted no error in his approach."
Ali refused to speculate on a possible cause of the crash, but emphasized that Shakeeb was an experienced crew member with some 6,856 hours of flying time. The minimum qualifying time for a Gulf Air pilot is 4,000 hours.
Three investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board flew into Manama on Friday evening, a civil aviation authority spokesman said. They were whisked to a meeting with Bahraini officials and were expected to start their inquiry immediately.
On Saturday, the U.S. and Bahraini teams are expected to meet with six French government experts and a representative of Airbus Industries. They too were to have a key role in determining the cause of the crash. Six Airbus 320s have crashed in the last 12 years.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.