The pilots at Juhu’s airport hosted their oldest flier last week, when they took 102-year-old Vithabai Patil on a 15-minute chopper ride.
Patil had never flown till last Saturday, and barring a nervous moment when the Pawan Hans helicopter made a sharp mid-air turn, she enjoyed herself, airport officials said.
Patil flew along the city’s western coast, right up to the golden Global Vipaasna Pagoda in Borivli. She saw north Mumbai’s beaches, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and the amusement parks near the Gorai creek.
“The two-hour wait at airports before scheduled flights make her jittery. Her bones have become too soft to handle the wear and tear that seems normal to regular air travellers,” said Amol Patil, her grandson who works with a city Information Technology firm.
Amol said his grandmother told his wife about her unfulfilled wish to fly a month ago. “The joy ride turned out ideal for her, as we could drive her right up to the tarmac before boarding the chopper.”
The Pawan Hans Helicopter Limited (PHHL) crew that operated the chopper were stunned when they were told they will have to fly a centenarian. “I had asked for additional ground crew keeping her age in mind. But she got off the car and boarded the helicopter by herself,” said Shashidar Walmiki, flight co-ordinator, PHHL.
Joy rides on helicopters have been available from Mumbai’s Juhu airport for the past five years. It became organised a few months ago, after the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) Ltd and PHHL started the service. The price of a single ticket is Rs3,400 for a 10-15 minute ride, but the rates were slashed to Rs3,000 on April 14-16 for the Maritime Summit that is on in the city.
“On turning a senior citizen, Sarita Aswani, 60, celebrated her birthday by being among the first to enjoy a 10-minute helicopter ride over Mumbai and recently a Patil enjoyed a similar experience, showing senior citizens could also push the travel and tourism business,” said Paraag Jaiin Nainuttia, managing director, MTDC.
Amol said his grandmother hasn’t had her fill yet. “She has her eyes set on a seaplane ride next.”