A dummy stun grenade was found on Saturday aboard an Air India Boeing 747 aircraft, one of two standby planes for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent US visit.
As it turned out, the fake grenade had been used by the National Security Guard (NSG) for an ‘aircraft intervention drill’ a day after the PM’s departure, when the plane was released for commercial use and flown to Mumbai.
But given that such a lapse took place on an aircraft that was to serve as a replacement for Air India One if the need arose, the incident has exposed a gaping hole in the country’s aviation safety.After its release to Air India on September 25, the double-decker plane flew on the Mumbai-Hyderabad-Jeddah route on Friday and landed in the Saudi Arabian city early Saturday, when the discovery was made by cabin crew.
In response, Air India dismissed the “suspicious object” found on the upper deck of business class as a “plastic wrapper”, and also denied the plane was a stand by aircraft for the PM.
But late evening, civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju confirmed the discovery of the empty stun grenade, calling the incident a “serious security failure”.
The government suspended four AI employees, including security managers at Mumbai and Hyderabad airports, and appointed a high-level inquiry committee chaired by AI’s joint managing director Nasir Ali. Ground-handling officers and security supervisors could also face strict action.
The NSG has said it will probe the matter. “We have ordered an inquiry to see how even an empty casing of a stun grenade, which was without any explosive material, was left behind,” said a senior NSG official. The Special Protection Group, responsible for the PM’s security, will also look into the incident.
No actual weapons or explosives are used in such drills, a senior security official said. In fact, the NSG — the country’s elite anti-hijacking and anti-terror commando force — gives a certificate to AI saying no live ammunition will be used.
The 747’s crew noticed the grenade as it rolled out from beneath one of the seats.
The pilots informed Jeddah air traffic control and the plane was moved to a remote bay for checks. “Had it come to light when the plane was airborne, it would have led to force-landing, resulting in a mid-air scare,” said a security source.
The grenade carried the marking ‘anti-riot stun grenade’ and was produced at the BSF’s Tekanpur-based Tear Smoke Unit.
In Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh, the civil aviation minister said, “Corrective measures must be taken. The incident must not be repeated.”