The death of an Air India ground technician who was sucked into a jet engine of an Airbus A619 getting ready for departure at Mumbai airport on Wednesday night raised questions if it was a freak accident or a serious safety lapse.
It put the spotlight firmly on whether Indian carriers have been diligently following safety procedures, although only a detailed inquiry and an examination of the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder will reveal the exact sequence of events that led to the tragic incident.
The incident happened around 8.30pm when AI flight 619 bound for Hyderabad was being pushed back for departure with more than 100 passengers on board. During the manoeuvre, 1983-batch technician Ravi Subramaniam was sucked into the engine and his body got shredded into pieces.
It cannot be denied that the accident was a grave mistake of either the pilots or ground engineers. “This is a case of serious safety lapse,” said an expert who did not wish to be named.
The pilot’s role, said an official, will be looked into. “The pilots have to ensure that both left and right sides of the aircraft is clear before they release the parking brake and push back and start the engine. After this, the parking brakes are put on again and ATC permission is sought to begin taxiing. Before the aircraft begins to taxi, the pilots need to check again if both sides of the plane are clear,” an official said.
If the process wasn’t followed, it would amount to criminal negligence, he explained.
The role of the aircraft maintenance engineer (AME) will also be examined.
“Who was departure aircraft maintenance engineer (AME) when the accident occurred? Who signed tech-log prior to flight departure and what was he doing at the time of the accident. The AME has to be present on the ground, near the aircraft when it is being pushed back. If found absent, it would raise serious questions,” an expert said.
“It is the AME who coordinates between the pilot and the technician when the aircraft is pushed back. There is no aviation regulation that states that a technician is responsible for departure of an aircraft. However, such is the pressure that technicians are often made responsible for departuAIre of one flight whereas the AME attends to another flight. The consequence is in front of all of us,” he said.
The expert was of the view that if the AME was present, he should have alerted the pilots or the technician. “But it seems he was missing. You cannot leave the aircraft at the mercy of a technician.”
Fingers were pointed at the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA), the nation’s air travel safety watchdog. “The safety management system (SMS) should have been implemented. Had the SMS been strictly put into practice by the DGCA, the accident would never have occurred,” said an official.
Air India chairman and managing director Ashwini Lohani offered his condolences to Subramaniam’s bereaved family. “We are deeply saddened and regret the tragic incident at Mumbai airport. The incident is being investigated.”
This is not the first time such an incident had happened and it is not reassuring that such gruesome deaths are not unprecedented. But miracles do occur as a US Navy serviceman survived after being sucked into a jet engine on an aircraft carrier in 1991.