On November 4, 1977, though cable television had not arrived in India, the news of Prime Minister Morarjee Desai’s plane crash had the government in a tizzy.
Desai escaped relatively unhurt, P.K. Thungon, who was the Arunachal chief minister and was travelling with him, fractured his left leg and suffered some other injuries as well.
The plane had crashed in Jorhat, Assam. In those days, the Pushpak Rath, the 1970s version of Air India One, was a Tupolev-124K.
“I’m very sorry to hear that Mr Reddy’s plane is missing,” Thungon told Hindustan Times.
He doesn’t remember much. “I tried very hard to forget that unfortunate incident. It was in 1977 or 1978.”
“I had advised them against flying to Jorhat after 2 p.m,” he said. Light and weather conditions in the Northeast are not conducive to flying at that hour. “But these people (the PMO) insisted and we took off from Delhi around 6 p.m.”
The plane, he said, overshot the runway the first time they tried to land. The pilot turned around and returned. “But the second time it crashed nose down. We crashed into a paddy field,” he said.
A few minutes later, Thungon realised that his leg was fractured. “I crawled out holding onto the walls. I think about seven people had died.”
When the paddy caught fire, the survivors — “I think there were about 11” — moved several feet away. “We were afraid that the plane might explode.”
It took rescuers two hours to find them and move them to the nearest hospital.