A major disaster was averted on Wednesday night at the Mumbai airport, when the pilot of an Air India cargo plane spotted fire raging in a consignment that was to be loaded onto the aircraft.
Preliminary investigation showed the consignment contained matchboxes and incense sticks, categorised by the aviation industry as “dangerous goods”.
“I am terrified and shocked. Think what could have happened? The time the fire was detected, the aircraft would have been airborne. This needs to be properly investigated,” Captain AK Malhotra, commander of the aircraft, told Hindustan Times.
Jitender Bhargav, Air India’s executive director (public relations), said the airport staff received the postal consignment in Mumbai from Chennai for delivery to Nagpur.
Minutes before the flight’s takeoff — it was scheduled for 11.30 pm, but was delayed — the shipment lying close to the plane caught fire at 11.42 pm. The crew that noticed the fire found no commercial personnel near the aircraft.
“Thick smoke was coming out from one of the eight pellets (flat trays on which the cargo is loaded for easier handling) marked for loading. It took more than 10 minutes for the fire brigade to control it,” said an airport official, who didn’t want to be identified.
Captain Malhotra said the rules stipulated that the pilot of the aircraft should be informed about the presence of the consignment of dangerous goods. But he knew nothing about the presence of such a consignment.
He said he would not fly the aircraft until he gets satisfactory explanation from the management.
According to airport officials, the incident was much more serious than planes skidding off runways.
The airline is yet to file an FIR to fix the responsibility and establish the cause of the fire. Bhargav, however, said it was the postal department’s responsibility to file an FIR and investigate because the freighter was leased out to it.
However, what ignited the fire is still unknown, as without ignition and supply of oxygen, the fire could not have started.
The over 20 years old Boeing 737-200 aircraft is among five such planes converted into freighters from passenger planes.