Mumbai airport 'UFO' mystery solved, two held for floating promotional balloons

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: May 26, 2015 23:08 IST

The parachute-like objects spotted over the airport last week led to an uproar, raising security concerns. But these ‘unidentified objects’ were just regular balloons, floated to inaugurate a cricket tournament of a private company.

Two first-time event organisers were arrested on Tuesday night for releasing the balloons in a restricted area, which affected the take-off and landing of two flights.

According to the airport police, Kunal Shah, 32, and Nilesh Shrimankar, 41, had organised a two-day cricket tournament for the employees of Dharmanand Diamond Association Private Limited at the Airport Colony ground in Kalina on Saturday.

To represent the teams — two from the company and one each from the Bank of Baroda, State Bank of India, Central Bank of India and Royal Bank of Scotland — the organisers released six sets of promotional balloons, which ended up over the airport airspace.

Unable to identify the objects, the air traffic control (ATC) tower asked the pilots lined up for take-off and landing to be cautious. The entire security apparatus, including the police, was on their toes and started to investigate the incident.

“The balloons were released around 5pm. A pilot, who was about to land, noticed them around 5.55pm. Another pilot aborted take-off and immediately alerted the ATC,” said Rajendra Nagbhirey, senior inspector, airport police station.

Assistant inspector Irfan Shaikh said they called Shah and Shirmankar for questioning after they found out about the cricket match. “They had taken pictures of the balloons, which matched with the visuals of the objects noticed in the airspace,” he said.

A case has been registered against Shah and Shrimankar for endangering life or personal safety of others, disobeying orders by public servant, and common intention.

Meanwhile, a team from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation watched the CCTV footage at the airfield and claimed that the objects were at least 3ft long. “We have asked the Mumbai International Airport Limited to file a police complaint as the balloons were big and could have been fatal,” said Sanjay Brahmane, deputy director, air safety (western region).

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