Author William Dalrymple, who was on Air India’s Khajuraho-Varanasi-Delhi flight that made an emergency landing in the national capital, said on Tuesday there were ample indications that something was wrong with the aircraft.
He said Air India apparently knew there was a problem with the hydraulics system of the Airbus 320 and this was the reason why the flight was initially cancelled and all the passengers taken off at Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh.
“But after an hour, we were told that the flight would take off. Probably this was because of pressure on the (Air India) station manager but it was a wrong decision,” Dalrymple told Hindustan Times.
“When we landed in New Delhi and were waiting for our baggage, I spoke with an Air India technician or engineer who was on the aircraft, and he said he had been terrified because of the problem with the aircraft and had been chanting a mantra throughout the flight,” he said.
Around 150 passengers and crew on board the Air India flight had a close shave when it landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on Monday night with dense smoke coming out of it. The passengers and crew were evacuated using emergency slide-chutes.
Air India said there were a few sparks at the nose wheel but no fire, but sources in the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said there was a minor fire in the rear wheel that was doused by ground staff. The aviation regulator has ordered a probe into the incident.
Six passengers sustained minor injuries during the evacuation and were treated at the airport hospital.
Dalrymple said he had been able to gather that some of the aircraft’s wheels were “covered in oil” and had burst into flames during the landing.
Recalling the tense minutes during and after the emergency landing, Dalrymple said: “The pilot had alerted Delhi and the emergency services were there. When we touched down, the pilot said twice: ‘May Day, May Day, evacuate passengers.’ There’s no way they can deny that there was a fault (with the aircraft).
“It was the longest panic-stricken two minutes as we waited to be evacuated. The lights had gone out and we were doused with water as we came out because the aircraft was being sprayed with water.”
Even after the incident, Air India has offered no explanation or apologies to the passengers, Dalrymple said.
Minister of state for aviation Mahesh Sharma had on Monday night acknowledged that the aircraft’s pilot had learnt of a leak in the hydraulic system.
Sources said the flight was around 128km from Delhi when Captain Tarang Gupta contacted air traffic control and sought permission for an emergency landing. The plane landed safely at 7.55pm.
“This resulted in a few sparks at the nose wheel. There was no fire. All 146 passengers were evacuated safely and taken to the terminal building,” said an Air India spokesperson.
“The plane’s main hydraulic system, also known as the green hydraulic system, was at a low level, possibly due to a leak, so the alternate braking system which does not have full anti-skid capability had to be used. When you use the alternate breaking system, chances of overheating are very high,” said a pilot who did not wish to be named.