Three-hundred passengers had a miraculous escape last week when their planes came within 500 feet of each other over the airport in New Delhi.
With air traffic control (ATC) oblivious, the only thing that came between the planeloads of people and death was a warning device in the two aircraft.
A Hyderabad-bound Air India flight with 145 people on board took off from Indira Gandhi International Airport at 10 a.m. on April 6. Minutes later, it came as close as 500 feet to a Kingfisher flight descending to Delhi.
Luckily, the Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System, a device that receives signals from the transponders of other aircraft in its airspace and sends this to the pilot, helped avoid a collision in the nick of time.
"The aircraft came closer by normal standards while crossing each other. It seems like the mistake of the ATC official and the person has been de-rostered (suspended)," said an Airports Authority of India (AAI) spokesman. The AAI manages all civil air traffic in India.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is investigating the case.
"We will know the exact reason for the air proximity when investigations are over," the AAI spokesman said.
DGCA chief Nasim Zaidi couldn't be contacted for comment despite repeated attempts.
"With so much pressure on ATC officials, thanks to the ever-increasing air traffic, such incidents are bound to happen," said a senior ATC official who didn't wish to be named.
"The incident happened at a time when there was a huge line-up of departing flights and many arrivals coming in too."
The incident brings back memories of the November 1996 collision between a Saudi Arabian Airlines plane that had taken off from IGI and a Kazakhstan Airlines flight that was approaching the airport over Charkhi Dadri village in Haryana.
All 349 people on board were killed.