Departure from set procedures may have caused Air India mishap

  • Tushar Srivastava, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 18, 2015 01:48 IST
Preliminary investigations into the gruesome death of an Air India technician at the Mumbai airport suggest that possible lapses on the part of the engineers and pilots concerned may have resulted in the fatality. (Vipin Kumar/ HT photo)

Even as the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau launched a probe into the gruesome death of an Air India technician at the Mumbai airport on Wednesday night, details have emerged on possible lapses on the part of the engineers and pilots concerned.

The accident had occurred around 8.30 pm, when the Hyderabad-bound AI-619 was being pushed back for departure with more than 100 passengers aboard. A 1983-batch technician, Ravi Subramaniam, had been sucked into the engine, killing him instantly. His limbs and head were shredded as rescuers struggled to retrieve his body.

While senior officials admitted to HT that “serious safety lapses” had taken place, they said only a detailed inquiry and an examination of the cockpit voice recorder as well as its flight data recorder would reveal who was truly responsible.

Nevertheless, over 24 hours after the accident, a few details of the incident have emerged. An email titled ‘A black day in the history of Indian aviation’, sent by a Mumbai maintenance manager of IndiGo to his colleagues, pointed to several lapses as well as instances of non-adherence to the standard operating procedure (SoP).

“After pushback, the technician instructed the helper to remove the tow bar. The helper removed the tow bar and, in all this time, the technician was facing the tow truck with his back to the engine. In the meantime, captain got taxi clearance from ATC and he was informed by co-pilot that aircraft was clear.

The technician still on headset and with his back still facing the engines, aircraft started to move with both engines on (sic). With no chocks placed, the aircraft started moving and sucked the technician. The helper… immediately sat down and got saved,” he wrote.

The mail went on to say that the aircraft maintenance engineer (AME), the final authority for signing off the aircraft, was not present at the spot. IndiGo did not comment on the email.

Safety experts also blamed the negligence of the officials concerned for the incident. “How can the AME not be present? Who signed the tech-log prior to flight departure? The AME has to be present on the ground, near the vicinity of the aircraft when it is being pushed back,” said a safety expert on the condition of anonymity.

“It is the AME who coordinates between the pilot and the technician when the aircraft is being pulled back. A technician is not responsible for the departure of an aircraft. If the AME was present, he could have alerted the pilots or the technician,” he added.

The role of the captain and the co-pilot, both of whom have been grounded, has also come under the scanner. “The pilots have to ensure that both the left and right sides of the aircraft are clear before they release the parking brake and taxi out. If the processes aren’t followed, it amounts to criminal negligence. Complacency and overconfidence can result in dire consequences,” said an official.

Fingers were also pointed at the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA), the nation’s air travel safety watchdog. “Had the Safety Management System been implemented strictly by the DGCA, such an accident would not have occurred,” said another official.

Air India chairperson Ashwani Lohani, who admitted to “some communication gap”, announced an ex-gratia of `5 lakh and a job to Subramaniam’s next of kin on Thursday. However, a few of his colleagues did not seem happy with the compensation.

“Giving Rs 5 lakh is like adding insult to injury,” said an Air India employee.

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