Panic hit the domestic terminal 1-A of the Mumbai airport on Monday morning when a Delhi-bound Air India flight, carrying 150 passengers, had to abort its take-off when an Air Force chopper blocked its way on the main runway.
The Air Traffic Control instructed the pilot to apply emergency brakes, which led to a tyre burst and the plane skidded for about 100 m before it screeched to a halt in the middle of the main runway.
The aircraft was taxied to Bay No 18, close to the domestic terminal 1-A, and the shaken passengers got off. A team of airfield safety officers and airlines engineering staff too reached the spot.
Joint Director, Directorate General of Civil Aviation, A.K. Chopra reached Mumbai on Monday evening to look into the matter. It is still not clear as to what caused the goof-up.
“We would go through the cockpit conversation between the ATC and both the pilots,” said a senior DGCA official, requesting anonymity.
“Death was a few metres away,” said Hitesh Solanki (30), an urban management consultant with the central government. “My family was scared so I rushed home.”
Confirming the incident, an on-duty airport official said: “The fliers, including children, were shaken; some were screaming inside the terminal.”
Another passenger, who did not wish to be named, said: “A few seconds away from the take-off we saw the chopper coming down. It had the Indian flag embossed on it’.”
While around 30 fliers who stormed into the terminal manager’s office and cancelled their tickets were refunded, others rescheduled their flights.
However, those who chose to stay back in the terminal — mostly businessmen — were stranded for over three hours before being accommodated in another aircraft that took off at 1 pm.
The drama did not affect flight movement. “The Air India flight was quickly taken off the runway, so flight movement was not affected,” said a Mumbai International Airport Limited spokesperson.
Airport sources said the near-collision has grounded the Air India aircraft.
It may be noted at the DGCA is already under fire from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for consistently flouting safety standards. The US regulator is considering downgrading India for failure in following safety incidents. If that happens Indian carriers would be treated like airlines from countries like Uganda or Pakistan where safety has been sub-standard. This would stringent checks on Indian carriers like Air India or Jet Airways every time they land in the US.