The near miss at the Mumbai airport on Monday when Delhi-bound Air India flight IC-866, carrying 150 passengers, aborted take-off to avoid an Indian Air Force chopper that landed on the same runway triggered panic at domestic terminal 1-A.
As the shaken passengers counted their blessings, it was unclear what led to the runway mix-up."We would go through the cockpit conversation between the Air Traffic Control (ATC) and both the pilots," said a senior Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) official, who didn't wish to be named.
"Death was a few metres away," said Hitesh Solanki (30), an urban management consultant with the Union government. The fliers, including children, were shaken up. Some were screaming inside the terminal, said an airport official.
"The plane was just about to take off when the pilot suddenly applied the emergency brakes… I saw a helicopter pass by as the pilot announced that he had suddenly sighted the helicopter and even the ATC did not know about the helicopter," said Anshul Dhar, a Dubai resident.
"There were arguments between passengers and staff and many decided to cancel tickets," said Subroto Roy, a Delhi resident who had boarded the plane from Goa.
While 30 passengers cancelled tickets and were refunded, others rescheduled their flights. Those who stayed back, most of them businessmen, had to wait for three hours to be accommodated on another flight that took off at 1 p.m.
"They made sit in the aircraft for three-and-a-half hours. They could have changed the aircraft earlier and saved us the harassment," said Dhar, who fought for a seat on IC-866 as his father had to undergo surgery. The plane landed at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport at around 3 pm.