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Mumbai plane crash: Families question how aircraft was allowed to fly

Officials at Juhu aerodrome, where the aircraft that crashed in Ghatkopar was undergoing repairs by Indamer Aviation Pvt. Ltd, said it was in a poor condition when it was brought to Mumbai.

mumbai Updated: Jun 30, 2018 16:15 IST
Hardik Anand and Agencies
Hardik Anand and Agencies
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Mumbai plane crash,Mumbai,Plane crash
Forensic experts examine the debris of a Beechcraft King Air C90 turboprop aircraft that crashed in Old Malik Estate in Ghatkopar, Mumbai, on June 28, 2018. (Vijayanand Gupta/HT Photo)

Questions were being asked on Friday how the small plane that crashed in a crowded Mumbai neighbourhood had been allowed to take off on a test flight the previous day, with one of the four crew members who died reportedly telling her father that the aircraft was in a “very bad” condition.

“It was yesterday morning that we spoke on the phone. It was a routine conversation...Then she told me that she was to fly later in a third-class aircraft which was in a very bad condition. She said she did not feel good about it. She assured me she was flying on it this time, but will never step her foot in it again,” said Surya Prakash Gupta, Surabhi Gupta’s father, in Sonepat, Haryana.

Surabhi Gupta, a maintenance engineer, died when the 12-seater Beechcraft King Air C90 twin-turboprop aircraft crashed in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar neighbourhood. Pilot Pardeep Singh Rajput, co-pilot Marya Zuberi and technician Manish Kumar Pandey also died in the crash, along with a pedestrian who was hit by aircraft parts and flaming fuel.

“She told me this aircraft was sick. Then how was it allowed to be flown? Who gave the permission? There should be a probe,” said the father.

Originally from Badaun district in Uttar Pradesh, Surabhi Gupta last year married Brijesh Kumar, who is also in the aviation industry. The couple lived in Mumbai. Her father said he was confident that a high-level probe would be conducted by aviation authorities into the crash and people responsible for it will be held accountable.

The aircraft had taken off from the Juhu airstrip on a test flight. It lost control when it was four nautical miles from Juhu. The plane was bought by Mumbai-based UY Aviation, which runs chartered flights, in 2015 from the Uttar Pradesh and Thursday’s was its first test flight after repairs. Officials at Juhu aerodrome, where it had been undergoing repairs, said it was in a poor condition when it was brought to Mumbai, where it was being repaired by Indamer Aviation Pvt. Ltd.

Aviation experts questioned the test flight’s path through densely populated neighbourhoods, and on a day when it was raining. “I am surprised that the test flight was cleared when there were light rains. I hope that the DGCA (directorate general of civil aviation) will conduct a detailed enquiry and not conclude it is an Act of God,” former air force pilot aviation expert Vipul Saxena said.

On Friday, the Bombay high court emphasised the need to put in place adequate infrastructure for air safety, referring to Thursday’s plane crash. A bench of the court said the authorities could either act now and put in place requisite infrastructure for air safety or continue risking the lives of citizens as it has been “doing until now”.

The observations came as a bench of justices SC Dharamadhikari and Bharati Dangre was hearing an application filed by the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) seeking permission for installing overhead cables for a metro rail junction. Installing such cables , however, will come in the way of the funnel area of the Juhu airport by around 11 centimetres.

MMRDA counsel SB Talekar told the court that since the violation of height norms was minimal, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) had granted the state-run agency a no-objection certificate (NOC) this January, but directed it to also seek the court’s approval as well.

The bench, however, said that even violation of “one centimetre was too much sometimes”. It directed the AAI, the DGCA and the ministry of civil aviation to file an affidavit clearing their stand on MMRDA’s application, declining to pass any order granting relief.

“We don’t want to be part of such decisions. Anything that endangers the life of the public can’t be considered like this. What you (the authorities) need to do is decide whether you want to act now and set up safe infrastructure for even small flights to take off and land safely or continue to put lives at risk as we have been doing until now,” it said.

Manwhile, Indamer Aviation on Friday denied any glitches in the aircraft, with executive director Kanu Gohain saying the plane had undergone extensive repair work. Indramer Aviation was undertaking maintenance of the plane, and had cleared it for the test flight after it passed the ground tests.

Gohain said that cause for the accident was yet to be ascertained. “What caused the plane crash has not been found yet. The investigation is still on. It is very strange as there were no emergencies or untoward events during the 40 minutes that it had flown prior to the crash. But the incident is really unfortunate as it claimed five lives,” Gohain told ANI.

“After the Uttar Pradesh government sold it to UY Aviation, it was given to us for repair work. We repaired the plane thoroughly, replacing all the faulty parts. Following that, reweighing, systems check, all the functions of the craft were thoroughly checked. The checking process is done twice to be fail-safe,” he said.

The plane crashed closed to a construction site in Ghatkopar shortly after 1pm. At least 40 labourers had a narrow escape as they went for their lunch break minutes before the plane crashed. Three construction workers received minor injuries in the incident and were hospitalised.

“There was light rain at that time which made us seek shelter for our lunch. We went to another under-construction building in the same compound. But generally, we used to have our food at the very place where the tragedy struck,” one construction worker said.

First Published: Jun 29, 2018 23:13 IST