Flying at low altitude may have caused chopper crash in Mumbai

A day after a United Helicharters Pvt Ltd (UHPL) chopper carrying five people who were one their way to Aurangabad crashed near Murbad village in Thane, air safety experts said the accident could have been caused by a situation known as controlled flight into terrain (CFIT).

CFIT occurs when a pilot intentionally choose to fly at a lower altitude to avoid clouds. Experts said this was a common cause of air mishaps amid foggy weather and a hilly terrain.

“This crash could be because of CFIT since weather charts showed visibility was extremely poor,” said a veteran chopper pilot, who did not wished to be named since the matter is being probed.

Eye witnesses at Tokawade, a village close to the crash site, also told the police the chopper was seen flying at a low altitude.

“The crew might have chosen to fly at a lower altitude to avoid the thick misty cover, but failed to climb past the 2000-foot Naneghat Hills,” said an official.

Similar mishaps probed globally have shown that the pilot’s inability to gauge a plane’s distance from the ground cause such accidents.

“A problem with CFIT is that the crew does not realise the danger till the last moment,” said a former pilot with the Indian Airforce, adding that no traceable distress calls had been sent.

A team from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) completed inspection of the spot on Monday evening but were unable to ascertain the cause.

“A lot of evidence has to be deciphered with data about weather, serviceability of the chopper and other aspects,” said a senior DGCA official.


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