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Major tragedy averted at Mumbai airport

February 09, 2009 11:27 IST
Last Updated: February 09, 2009 13:03 IST

A major disaster was averted at the Mumbai [Images] airport on Monday when an Air Force helicopter of President Pratibha Patil's [Images] fleet landed on the runway as an Air India [Images] plane was about to take off for Delhi [Images].

The pilot of the Air India flight to Delhi aborted take off when he saw the helicopter landing on the runway he was about to use, official sources said.

A fleet of three helicopters, including the one carrying Patil, along with Maharashtra Governor S C Jamir and some other dignitaries, had taken off from Mumbai's Naval base 'INS Kunjali' and were on their way to the airport since the President was to fly to Gondia by her special IAF plane to attend a function.

"At around 09.00 hrs today, an Air Force chopper landed on the same runway from which Air India flight IC 866 (with 150 passengers on board) was taking off for Delhi, forcing the pilot of the plane to abort take off at the last minute," a Mumbai Airport official told PTI in Mumbai.

The Air India aircraft, he said, was taxiing to reach the main runway for the take off when the Air Traffic Control talked to the pilot regarding the helicopter. The pilot applied the brake to bring the aircraft to a halt, he said.

Official sources later said that the President was not on board the helicopter and she later took off by her special aircraft for the scheduled function.

Mumbai International Airport authorities did not comment on the incident, saying that, "this is purely an issue concerning the Mumbai Air Traffic Control, which had allowed the both the landing and the take off." 

A probe into the incident has been ordered by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the sources said. A senior DGCA official is coming from New Delhi to Mumbai to join the investigation, they said.

Pilot of Air India aircraft Captain S S Kohli wondered how the chopper landed when he had been given a clearance by the ATC to take off. "The chopper just landed without taking a landing clearance. I cannot say much more," he said.

An IAF spokesman said, "The pilots of the chopper had followed the instructions from Bombay approach meticulously. The Presidential entourage was cleared to take off from INS Kunjali and land at Santa Cruz between two taxiways."

An inquiry has been ordered by the IAF into the incident, he said.

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