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Disaster averted by pilot

india Updated: Aug 28, 2009 01:49 IST
Lalatendu Mishra
Lalatendu Mishra
Hindustan Times
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A major mid-air disaster was averted on Wednesday night, when an Air India Cargo pilot raised alarm after spotting fire in a consignment to be loaded in an aircraft.

Initial investigations revealed that the consignment contained highly inflammable goods, categorized under ‘dangerous goods’. However, the cargo airline has not yet lodged any FIR to ascertain responsibility and cause of fire.

“The consignment was travelling from Chennai to Nagpur via Mumbai. India Post officials handed over the consignment to our staff in Mumbai to send it to Nagpur by our freighter,” Jitender Bhargav, executive director, (PR), Air India, said confirming the incident.

“The airport bomb disposal squad found aggarbatis (incense sticks) and match sticks in the consignment and India Post need to investigate it, ” Bhargav said. According to him, it was India Post’s responsibility, not Air India’s, to file an FIR as the freighter has been leased out to them (India Posts).

The Air India Cargo flight engaged to carrying India Post cargo was scheduled for take off from Mumbai at 11.30 pm, but was delayed by a few minutes since the commercial ground staff could not dispatch the plane on time. The shipment to be loaded on the aircraft was waiting in the bay when the pilot A K Malhotra and his crew noticed smoke coming out of the consignment and alerted the airport officials.

“Thick smoke was coming out from one of the eight pellets (flat tray on which cargo get loaded for easier handling) marked for loading in the plane. It took more than 10 minutes for the fire brigade to control it,” said an airport official. “The net of the pellet was cut open and only then fire tenders could extinguish the fire,” the official added.

“I am terrified and shocked. I have got a second life. Think what could have happened? The time fire was detected the aircraft should have been airborne and this could have caused a major disaster. This needs to be properly investigated,” said a visibly upset captain A K Malhotra. “The rules state that the aircraft captain should be informed about the presence of dangerous goods in the consignment. However, I was not give any such information,” Malhotra added.

Mumbai airport spokesperson said, “On opening the consignment, matches, aggarbatis and some silk materials were found. No explosives were found.”