President’s choppers escape crashing into Air India aircraft (Roundup)

February 9th, 2009 - 8:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Pratibha PatilMumbai/New Delhi, Feb 9 (IANS) In a major safety breach, a Delhi-bound Air India flight with 170 passengers and 10-member crew narrowly escaped colliding with a helicopter which was part of President Pratibha Patil’s fleet, minutes before taking off from Mumbai Monday morning.

Patil herself was inside one of the three choppers, and it was in a fraction of seconds that the mishap was averted at 9:30 a.m., spokespersons for both the President’s Office and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said.

“I was just preparing to take-off, suddenly this chopper came right in front of the aircraft and I applied the emergency brakes,” Captain A.S. Kohli, commander of IC-866 Mumbai-New Delhi flight told reporters in Mumbai.

Officials with the regulatory authority, which has ordered a special probe into the incident, however, had a slightly different version to offer, saying the Air Traffic Control (ATC) was “aware” of the VVIP movement.

“ATC Mumbai was aware of the presidential visit and were watching the approach movement of the presidential convoy of helicopters,” the directorate said in a statement.

“At that time, an aircraft of Air India was on the active runway-27. The ATC, noticing the movement of the aircraft on the runway, asked the aircraft to immediately apply breaks and exit through the taxiway,” it said.

“The aircraft exited immediately and the helicopters landed safely.”

Air India spokesman Jitendra Bhargava also told IANS that the pilot sighted the army choppers mid-air at a close distance of around 100 feet or so and that his presence of mind saved an accident.

“He (the pilot) applied emergency brakes and aborted the take-off. No miracles, it is the rigid professional training that was seen in action here,” Bhargava added.

He said the sudden application of brakes caused damage to the aircraft’s tyre following which it was safely taken to the bay, adding the incident was “purely Air Traffic Control-centric and not Air India-centric”.

The president since landed in the national capital a little after 4 p.m., after attending some functions at Gondia in eastern Maharashtra, which happens to be the constituency of Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel

Several of the 170 passengers, though, visibly shaken by the incident, cancelled their travel plans, while others were dispatched to New Delhi by some alternate flights arranged by the carrier.

The presidential chopper entourage had, among others, Maharashtra Governor S.C. Jamir, and had taken off from INS Shikra, a naval heliport in Mumbai’s downtown Colaba area. They proceeded to Gondia from Mumbai on an Indian Air Force aircraft.

The aviation regulator has appointed its Joint Director A.K. Chopra to probe the incident and his report is expected before this weekend, officials in the civil aviation ministry in New Delhi said.

Aviation expert Vipul Saxena said the pilot averted the disaster mainly because the aircraft was in the V-1 speed range, between 80-100 nautical miles, to make it possible for him to apply emergency brakes.

“If the aircraft had within the next few seconds ascended to V-2 speed, which is necessary to give the thrust for the take-off, the emergency brakes could have failed and there may have been a mega-disaster.”

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