All the 16 crew members were quarantined after they flew back, the airline said.(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)
All the 16 crew members were quarantined after they flew back, the airline said.(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)

Air India pilot tests Covid-19 positive, rescue flight to Moscow turned around

Air India did not clarify who was responsible for the lapse that allowed the pilot to board the aircraft with 16 other crew members.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Anvit Srivastava
UPDATED ON MAY 31, 2020 05:20 AM IST

A special Air India flight that took off from Delhi airport on Saturday morning to bring back Indian citizens stranded in Moscow, under the government’s Vande Bharat initiative, was called back midway when the airline found out that one of the pilots on-board had tested positive for the coronavirus disease, the airlines said in a statement.

Air India did not clarify who was responsible for the lapse that allowed the pilot to board the aircraft with 16 other crew members. An internal inquiry is underway, the airline said. All the 16 crew members were quarantined after they flew back, the airline said.

Under the government’s Vande Bharat mission, the national airline is flying back Indian citizens stranded abroad because of the suspension of international flights and lockdowns for the Covid-19 crisis. The first phase of Vande Bharat Mission, completed during May 7-16, resulted in the repatriation of 16,716 stranded Indians on 64 flights from a dozen countries. The second phase represents a massive scaling up of the programme, with 429 flights by Air India (311 international flights and 118 feeder flights) from 60 countries.

According to the officials at Delhi airport, Saturday’s special flight left Indira Gandhi International Airport at 6.40 am for Moscow to bring back 135 Indians. At around 9.30 am, the pilots were told to return to base.

“At the time when pilots were asked to return to Delhi airport they were already flying over Kazakhstan. They had completed around three hours of flight. It took them another three hours to return and the flight landed in Delhi by 12.30 pm,” said an official who requested anonymity.

In a statement, Air India said it had to recall the aircraft operating from Delhi to Moscow immediately when it was noticed that one of the cockpit crew had tested positive in a pre-flight Covid-19 test.

“On return, immediately after landing all cockpit and cabin crew have been tested and all laid down medical precautions are being taken to ensure their health and safety. All of them have been quarantined. Another aircraft was sent to operate the Vande Bharat flight to bring back Indians from Moscow,” the airline said.

The airline’s spokesperson did not respond to a query from HT about the procedure of pre-flight Covid-19 tests for the special flight’s crew members; another query on how the pilot had boarded the aircraft after he tested positive also elicited no response.

A second official at the airport, who is aware of the procedure that’s followed, said once a flight ‘s schedule is fixed, all crew meant to fly on that plane undergo a coronavirus disease test a few hours before departure time.

“The test results are sent to the authorities at the landing port if they demand {the results}. In some countries, including India, they ask for test results of the arriving crew in any relief flight,” the official said.

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