Mohammed Mir had a close encounter with death.
The 30-year-old working for a Gulf firm was on the Air India Mumbai-Riyadh flight that caught fire on Friday.
“It felt as if the plane was going to explode,” he said. But the crew on the flight was quick to evacuate passengers. “I thanked the crew profusely,” Mir added.
The ordeal on flight AI 829, which caught fire on Friday morning, began the night before. The flight was scheduled to leave Mumbai at 2 am but was delayed after a technical snag was detected.
The replacement flight began take-off at 5.15 am on the main runway, but the pilot aborted for technical reasons, and another aircraft change was scheduled. The passengers were taken back to the terminal.
They boarded for the third time, at around 10 am, on their third aircraft change. The flight began taxiing from Taxiway Alpha 3 when the crew on the lower deck saw an agitated group of people waving at them.
“I saw people on the runway’s edge waving at us,” said a cabin crew member requesting anonymity, adding, “We heard a thud and thick flames coming off the engine on the left of the aircraft.”
Air Traffic Control informed the jumbo jet’s pilot, who ordered an emergency evacuation. “Passengers began screaming and running towards the emergency exit on the left of the aircraft which was in flames,” said another flight attendant requesting anonymity.
The emergency exit on the right was opened. “Some people had friction burns while getting off the aircraft but evacuation was complete in one minute,” said another passenger. The flight finally took off at 6 pm, 16 hours behind schedule. Sixteen passengers reportedly cancelled their trip.
Air India’s spokesperson Jitendra Bhargava neither denied nor confirmed it: “Those passengers didn’t want to travel today so they postponed their trip.”