A Chennai-bound Air India flight crew spotted four mysterious colourful parachutes soon after take-off on Friday morning, a third such sighting in a fortnight.
According to the message received by the Mumbai air traffic control (ATC), the Airbus 319 was flying at 6,000 feet about five nautical miles from Vasai when the cockpit crew spotted the parachutes. “They were yellow, red, green and blue,” said a senior ATC official.
The DGCA has ordered a probe in the matter. “The ATC has informed us about the message from the AI crew. We will begin our preliminary probe,” said a senior official. DGCA officials said they had alerted the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security as the incident appeared to be a “security concern”. “Even if the flying objects spotted were parachutes they do not fall under our purview. Only registered aircraft fall under our purview,” said another official.
ATC sources said the spotted objects could also be balloons flying in the oceanic airspace.
According to an order released by the police in November 2015, paragliding activity is banned in the city.
While the security agencies have beefed up vigilance, psychiatrists believe there is a sense of panic in general. “This could be because of heightened vigilance, a phenomenon common after disasters. You may tend to misinterpret the stimulus, where one may see illusions or also believe seeing things,” said psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty, who has worked with disaster-affected areas such as Gujarat riots, Latur and Kandla earthquakes.
Citing an example, Shetty stated there was a case after the 1992 riots when a man misinterpreted a broom as an AK-47. “There is also a genuine risk from outside and hence there is anxiousness. At times, rumours thrive in such environment as well,” he added.
Police sources stated they are leaving no stone unturned and verifying each and every incident being reported to them. “Let people report. We will conduct verifications. It is not necessary that each and every complaint would result in some disclosure but we will verify,” said Dhananjay Kulkarni, deputy commissioner of police and Mumbai police spokesperson. Police sources said there are paragliding schools in the Lonavla-Kamshet belt and some of Friday’s spottings may be of these parachutes.
On January 13, a Pawan Hans captain, RS Nandal, informed Santacruz police station that he spotted six people paragliding about 1,000 to 1,600 feet above ground level, which were white and blue in colour, when he was flying his helicopter at 9.10am. The captain reported the spotting, which the Santacruz police station took cognizance.
A few days later, an AI flier bound to Mumbai reported a similar sighting. Again five paragliders were spotted by a pilot of a commercial plane in May 2015, as per Mumbai police sources.