A Delhi-bound Air India flight from Abu Dhabi with 128 people on board made an emergency landing at a Pakistani airport when pilots detected warning lights on the cockpit panel indicating hydraulic failure.
It later turned out to be a "false alarm" after Air India engineers flown by a special flight to Nawabshah airport in southern Sindh province found nothing wrong with the hydraulic system. The problem was with the emergency indicator lights in the cockpit panel.
All the 122 passengers and six crew members were flown back to Delhi by the special plane this evening after an over 10-hour halt. The affected A-319 aircraft also flew into Delhi shortly thereafter. The original Air India flight AI-940 was supposed to land in Delhi at 0500 hours.
"The aircraft was flying over Pakistani airspace when the pilot saw warning lights on the cockpit panel and sought permission to land at the nearest airport, which was Nawabshah," an AI spokesperson said in Delhi.
A relief A-320 plane, carrying engineers, equipment and food, was rushed from Delhi. "There was nothing wrong with the hydraulic system of the
aircraft and, apparently the cockpit panel emitted false alarm making red lights to blip," Air India officials said, adding "however, even such a technical glitch has to be corrected and that was done."
Indian officials appreciated the cooperation of the Pakistani government in dealing with the situation.
On arrival at the Delhi airport, passengers said they were informed of a technical problem by the pilots who also told them that the plane was making an emergency landing.
"The aircraft made a smooth and normal touch down," one of the passengers said. Ashok Tomar, Special Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry, said the Indian High Commission in Islamabad was in constant touch with the Pakistani authorities throughout the period and a team of technical experts from Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority also assisted their Indian counterparts.
Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai was in touch with Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan Sharat Sabharwal, who was in contact with the commander of the aircraft.
Pakistan Defence Secretary Nargis Sethi had also directed the local aviation authorities to provide all assistance to the passengers and crew of the Indian aircraft, refuelling of which was taken care of by the Pakistan national carrier, PIA.
The passengers were permitted to disembark by Pakistan authorities and use the Nawab Shah airport's lounges, but the Captain preferred to have them remain on board, officials said. However, in New Delhi, Pakistan High Commission said the passengers were given visas on arrival at the airport.
Narrating their experience, a passenger V Radhakrishnan (65) said it was a long wait for them as the airport in Pakistan was very small. "There were literally no facilities. Though the flight landed safely, people were in panic and when there was a delay in arrival of our rescue aircraft, people got angry. We were told by the pilot, after landing that the hydraulics systems of our aircraft had developed some technical problem," he said.
For 15-year-old Muskan Sharma, who was travelling from Toronto to Delhi, it was a "scary" experience. "I was scared as to what may happen when we were told
that our aircraft has developed some problem," she said.