Mirac­u­lous escape for 130 pas­sen­gers as AI flight hits Tiruchy run­way wall

Boe­ing 737 suf­fers belly dam­age; di­verted to Mum­bai while in Mus­cat airspace, en route to Dubai

The New Indian Express - - FRONT PAGE - JOSE K JOSEPH

FOR more than three hours, the pilots of Air In­dia Ex­press flight IX611 had no idea they knocked down part of the Tiruchy air­port com­pound wall while tak­ing off at 1.15 am on Fri­day. Call it a miracle if you will. With 130 pas­sen­gers on board, they headed for Dubai, and didn’t know about the mishap un­til they reached Mus­cat airspace.

How­ever, mul­ti­ple pas­sen­ger accounts sug­gest they sensed some­thing was wrong. They claimed they had heated ex­changes with the six crew mem­bers, but were as­sured all was well.

While the belly of the air­craft had a gap­ing hole, part of the perime­ter wall and the In­stru­ment Land­ing Sys­tem (ILS) — in­clud­ing five an­ten­nae, the mon­i­tor and con­trol units — were dam­aged. A Very High Fre­quency (VHF) an­tenna also fell off the air­craft, air­port di­rec­tor K Gu­nasekaran said.

Air­port of­fi­cials ra­dioed the pilots and gave their coun­ter­parts in Dubai a heads-up. While the pilots were confident that the plane was sound, of­fi­cials at Dubai re­fused to let it land, say­ing it was too risky as a tyre, too, had taken a bit of a hit.

This sparked an­other round of anx­i­ety on board, and af­ter get­ting per­mis­sion for an emer­gency land­ing at Mum­bai, the pas­sen­gers were told where they were headed.

“The air­craft landed safely in Mum­bai around 5.35 am and tax­ied on its own to the park­ing bay. All 130 pas­sen­gers and six crew mem­bers on board alighted safely,” Air In­dia said in a state­ment, which per­haps showed how sturdy the Boe­ing 737 was, de­spite a punc­ture in its body.

The first alert came from traf­fic con­trol of­fi­cials, who no­ticed the ac­ci­dent through CCTV footage. The in­for­ma­tion was shared with the Air In­dia of­fice in Mum­bai, which was when the chain of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­gan.

The sit­u­a­tion could have gone out of con­trol in Tiruchy it­self as the air­port’s 5-ft wall stands ad­ja­cent the Tiruchy-Pudukkot­tai Na­tional High­way. “Had a bus or truck been ply­ing at that time, the air­craft’s tyres would have smashed into it too. Thank god there was no traf­fic on the road,” said Thangavelu, a lo­cal res­i­dent.

But res­i­dents in the vicin­ity didn’t hear a bang. “I didn’t hear any big noise as I was asleep. We are used to the sound of planes, and the crash would not have been very loud,” said R Xavier, a se­nior cit­i­zen, who lives near the air­port.

“Had the air­craft gone fur­ther in the same tra­jec­tory, it could have smashed into res­i­den­tial build­ings. The run­way must be ex­panded,” said Sheik Da­wood, a res­i­dent of RS Pu­ram. Gu­nasekaran, how­ever, said the run­way was long enough.

Union Civil Avi­a­tion min­is­ter Suresh Prabhu said he di­rected of­fi­cials to con­duct a high-level en­quiry. He asked them to put in place a reg­u­lar ‘safety com­pli­ance re­port’ of all air­lines.

MK ASHOK KU­MAR

A man looks past the dam­aged com­pound wall of the Tiruchy air­port, which was hit by a plane dur­ing take-off; and (right) the dam­aged belly of the plane in Mum­bai

light Nor­mal f pat h

AMIT BAN­DRE

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