On Friday morning, the Mumbai airfield resembled a film set shooting a fatal air crash sequence and its aftermath. The set - a bus playing a makeshift aircraft that caught fire after overshooting the runway, ambulances, fire tenders and scores of airport officials – were a part of the 3-hour-long mock drill.
Every Indian airport is mandated to conduct such drills once in two years to gauge its preparedness in dealing with air mishaps, according to the aviation safety regulator.
The city airport's main airstrip was shut between 11 am and 2 pm for the exercise. Although the secondary runway was available during that period, stray flight delays up to 30 minutes were recorded, said airport officials.
The make-belief emergency began at 11:38am when the city air traffic control tower (ATC) received a call from a Mumbai-bound aircraft reporting a mid-air snag. Precautionary arrangements were made for an emergency landing but the flight ostensibly witnessing a sudden engine failure missed its prescribed runway exit and got engulfed in fire after overshooting the airstrip.
According to airport officials fire tenders and 14 ambulances reached the made-up crash site within two minutes since the Mayday call was recorded. About 13 mock fatal casualties were sent to Nanavati and Lilavati hospitals, while the other mock crash survivors were taken to the airport first-aid centre, officials added.
“The full scale emergency drill is an exercise to check our readiness on real time situation. We are committed to the safety and well-being of our passengers and we consistently strive to incorporate and upgrade the best of world class safety measures,” said a Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) spokesperson. The spokesperson added other stakeholders who participated in the drill were Jet Airways, DGCA, Customs, Immigration, Mumbai police, hospitals and the security personnel.
An independent panel of observers, which included officials from the DGCA called in to check on the drill, pointed out a few gaps in the preparedness. “There were no blankets for fire survivors. The city-side fire tenders were not alerted,” said one of the observers requesting anonymity. Sources in the DGCA said that the regulator would soon put out a hits and miss report on the drill.