Passengers aboard an Air India flight had a close shave after one of the two nose wheels fell off shortly after take-off from southern Assam's Silchar town on Sunday morning.
The aircraft carrying 51 people – 46 passengers, two pilots, two airhostesses and an engineer – managed to land safely at Guwahati’s Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi International Airport more than an hour later.
Air Traffic Control officials here said Air India’s ATR9760 aircraft took off from Silchar’s Kumbhirgram Airport around 9am.
"Shortly after take-off, the ATC there noticed an object falling to the ground. The ground staff found it to be a nose wheel. We were subsequently informed," a senior officer of ATC Guwahati told HT.
"The pilot, Urmila Yadav, wanted to land after we alerted her. But we asked her to fly at low pass (as is done during landing with the wheels out) so that the ground staff could have a look at the aircraft from close and detect the failure," he added.
Yadav was then instructed to hover above the airport for an hour to decrease the fuel in order to minimise the chances of the aircraft catching fire in case of crash landing.
Lauding Yadav for 'some great piloting', the ATC officer said she was instructed to land the nose wheel as late as she could.
"This is done under emergency circumstances to avoid any disaster. She handled the situation well, landing safely around 10:30am," he said.
The passengers, though, had a harrowing time after they were told to prepare for emergency landing. Two women fainted while an old man had delirious fits.
"The passengers were all frightened. We became suspicious when the airhostesses started giving safety demonstration for the second time 45 minutes after take-off," said writer Sumanta Chaliha, one of the passengers.
"When I asked an airhostess if there was anything wrong, she said they were expecting emergency landing. I panicked when a cabin crew (engineer), who was shifting some suitcases from the cockpit to the rear end of the aircraft, told me of the fall of the nose wheel," Chaliha said.
"All ATRs being flown by Air India in the Northeast should be phased out," he said.