No one’s clear who is to blame for the mix-up.
Early on Sunday, two planes carrying more than 200 people hurtled towards each other on intersecting runways at the Mumbai airport.
Moments away from disaster, the two pilots were alerted to the danger and the aircraft screeched to a halt a couple hundred metres apart.
Airport sources said the Kolkata-bound Jet Airways flight carrying 120 passengers got cleared for take-off at 7.56 am from cross runway 14. Within moments, the Mumbai-Delhi-Shanghai Air India flight with 119 passengers started moving along the main runway.
“When the Jet pilot reached close to the intersecting point between the runways, he heard the ATC asking the Air India pilot to stop. Both the pilots, who were about to exert full throttle for take-off, applied the brakes and came to a screeching halt,” said an airport official requesting anonymity, as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
The pilots have been grounded and the air traffic controller involved has been taken off duty, pending an inquiry.
“Both the pilots and the controller will be questioned on Monday,” said Nasim Zaidi, Director General of Civil Aviation. “Our preliminary investigation shows the ATC had given take-off clearance only to the Jet Airways pilot. But we will listen to the cockpit conversation and take a decision.”
Sunday’s near-miss is the latest in a long list of mishaps at the Mumbai aiport. On February 9, a collision was averted between an Air India flight and a helicopter from President Pratibha Patil’s fleet. Seventy cases of airfield accidents all over India are pending with the DGCA since 2007.