Sudhir Kumar Tripathi, a sales development manager with an insurance company, was looking forward to a relaxing vacation in Mauritius with his friends when the Air Mauritius flight took off at 2 p.m. on Thursday from the Indira Gandhi International Airport. He now shudders to narrate what followed next.
Two hundred and forty one passengers of an Air Mauritius flight had a miraculous escape on Thursday after the plane suffered a bird hit and then caught fire after the pilot applied the brakes to abort the take-off. The scared passengers, who included many children and the elderly, had to be evacuated through emergency escape chute.
"Our pilot announced the bird hit at 2 p.m. and I saw a yellow flame coming from the wheels and there was also a loud thud heard from the engine," Tripathi said. He had organised a group tour of 90 people working for HDFC standard life insurance, who were on board.
"The plane was slightly airborne when the pilot applied brakes and the friction led to the wheel catching fire," said Rahul Gautam, another member of the same group.
Passengers said the aircraft had become very hot and smoke had come inside. "Passengers were very scared and thought this was the end. The children were crying and the elderly were finding it difficult to evacuate the plane by sliding down the escape chute," he said.
"Had the fire not extinguished or had the plane taken off, it would have definitely blown up either on ground or mid-air," he said. Some of the passengers also received cuts and bruises.
Fire tenders were called to douse the fire and rescue teams helped the passengers to evacuate. As the drama took place, the main runway was blocked and flight operations were severely affected for close to half an hour. The passengers were shifted to a city hotel. They would be out on another flight at 6 a.m. on Friday. When HT visited the city office of Air Mauritius, the staff refused to talk and no one was available at the airline's airport office.
Monsoon usually means increase in number of bird hits at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. During the rainy season, grass on the land near runways grow very fast and attracts insects. Birds of prey like kites are hover around the airport to feed on these insects.
Bird hits cause problems during landing and take off when a bird gets sucked into the engine. This can even cause engine failure and ground the aircraft.
Airport sources said that bird hits had become very common recently. Airport operator Delhi International Airport Ltd., however, said that many measures had been taken to curb bird activity near the airport.