Air India flight, military chopper in near collision scare (Lead)

February 9th, 2009 - 4:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Pratibha PatilMumbai, Feb 9 (IANS) Nearly 170 passengers and 10 crew members of an Air India flight had a close shave Monday when a military chopper came in its path just as the passenger jet was about to take-off. The helicopter was part of President Pratibha Patil’s entourage, an Air India spokesperson said.

The pilot of IC-866 Mumbai-New Delhi flight, Capt. A.S. Kohli, applied emergency brakes and aborted the take-off.

“I was just preparing to take-off, suddenly this chopper came right in front of the aircraft and I applied the emergency brakes,” Kohli told reporters here.

“From the information available with us, our pilot sighted the army chopper very close by, maybe a 100 feet or so in mid-air. So he applied the emergency brakes and aborted the take-off. No miracles, it is the rigid professional training that was seen in action here,” Air India spokesman Jitendra Bhargava told IANS.

The tyre of the aircraft got damaged in the incident and the aircraft was then taken to the bay.

Bhargava declined to comment on the cause of the incident and termed it “purely Air Traffic Control-centric and not Air India-centric”.

“Now whatever has to be said and done will be at the Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL) levels,” he said.

MIAL spokesperson declined to offer any comment on the incident when contacted by IANS.

“It looks to be a case of a mistake committed by an Air Traffic Controller (ATC) at the airport. The ATC is responsible for landing and take-off operations at the airport,” said another Air India official.

Several passengers, shaken by the incident, decided to cancel their travel plans, while many others braved the agony and went to New Delhi by alternate flights arranged by the carrier.

Some passengers gave full marks to Capt. Kohli and said that it was his “presence of mind and alertness” that prevented what could have been a major disaster.

Meanwhile, President Patil and her entourage reached Gondia in eastern Maharashtra Monday afternoon for her scheduled functions in the tribal areas.

The Indian Air Force has ordered an inquiry into the incident and has said that the chopper pilot was just following the instructions of the Mumbai ATC.

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