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Monday, February 9, 2009

Disaster averted as AI pilot slams brakes 300m from Prez’s chopper

Communication Gap Leads To Near-Collision At Mum Airport

Manju V & Chinmayi Shalya | TNN

Mumbai: A split-second decision to abort take-off by an Air India pilot and air-traffic controllers helped avert a horrifying collision at Mumbai airport on Monday morning. The heartstopping, high-speed drama unfolded in the span of less than a minute when an IAF helicopter from President Pratibha Patil's VVIP squadron landed on runway 27 on which an Air India aircraft was speeding towards a take-off at the same time. The AI aircraft aborted take-off and came to a halt about 300 metres away from the chopper.
    Expectedly, the blame game began shortly after, even as radio telecommunication recordings between the ATCOs, IAF and AI pilots were confiscated by officials of the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for investigation. The IAF, which will also be investigating the matter, said through its spokesperson that their "pilots had followed the instructions from Bombay Approach (Air Traffic Control) meticulously''. Officials of the Intelligence Bureau also reached Mumbai airport later in the day to do a background check of the personnel involved and to rule out sabotage.
    The incident took place at 9.17 am, when six civilian aircraft were circling for landing and an equal number were waiting for departure. As per the norms, the ATC was informed in advance about the VVIP movement. "At 9.17 am, Pratap 1, one of the three MI-17 helicopters of the President's squadron reported to the radar controller that it was three miles away from the airport. The three IAF helicopters were flying in formation and only the leader of the pack is in touch with the ATC,'' said an ATC source.

1 At 9.17 am, IAF chopper Pratap 1 (one of the 3 choppers in the VVIP squadron carrying President Pratibha Patil) reports to Mumbai ATC that it is 3 miles away from the airport 2 Immediately, IC-866, carrying 148 passengers and 7 crew members, is cleared for takeoff to Delhi from runway 27 3 As the plane starts its take-off roll and reaches a speed of around 120-130 knots (about 222-240 km/hr), an ATC tower controller suddenly notices that Pratap 2 has already landed near the end of the same runway 4 IC-866 given 'Stop Immediately' instruction thrice 5 Pilot applies emergency brake.
Another 3 secs would have taken the plane to decision speed,
after which it would have been impossible to abort take-off
6 Aircraft comes to a halt just 300 metres from Pratap 2. Pilot manages to steer plane into rapid exit taxiway 'Whisky'. Tyre bursts and smoke comes out of the undercarriage 7 Pratap 1, which is carrying the President, lands on runway 27 at 9.20 am.
Pratap 3 lands a minute later

HEART-STOPPER Had the stop order been delayed by even 3 seconds or if the pilot had not braked immediately, the plane would have crashed into the MI-17 helicopter with horrendous consequences
The chopper just landed without taking landing clearance. I cannot say much more —S S Kohli | CAPTAIN OF THE AIR INDIA A-321

There seems to have been a communication gap between Pratap 1 and Pratap 2. Pratap 1, as the squadron leader, was in touch with the ATC, but it was Pratap 2 that landed without intimation —ATC source
Our pilots had followed instructions meticulously. The presidential entourage was cleared to take off from INS Kunjali and land at Santa Cruz between two taxiways—IAF
It may have been an ATC mistake. It needs to take this issue seriously in order to avoid any accident in future —Ashok Chavan | CM
'Sparks flew and smoke rose from the wheels'
    Take-off permission was given at 9.17 am to a Mumbai-Delhi flight, IC-866, which had lined up on runway 27. An A-321 generally takes about 30-40 seconds to take off. At Mumbai airport, there is either a landing or a take-off every 90 seconds. "Since VVIP movement was expected, a three-minute gap before and after the VVIP flight was kept. Pratap 1 was to land at 9.20 am and the AI aircraft would have taken off before 9.18 am,'' the source added.
    But seconds after the A-321, with 148 passengers and seven crew members on board, commenced its take-off roll with full-on power, the tower controller, who physically keeps a watch on the runway, saw an IAF chopper touching down near the end of runway 27, which is near taxiway Charlie.

    "The A-321 had accelerated to a little above 120 knots (222 kmph) when the commander got the 'Stop Immediately' instruction three times from the ATC. Had the stop order been given three seconds later, or had the commander not acted quickly, it would have resulted in a crash since the A-321 would by then have crossed 145 knots (262 kmph), which was the decision speed for this flight, in three seconds,'' said an airline commander.
    Decision speed or V1 is that speed at or below which a takeoff can be safely aborted. Once an aircraft crosses that speed, the pilot has to continue the take-off procedure under any circumstances. Any attempt to brake or halt the aircraft after decision speed is likely to end in a crash as the plane would speed out of the runway.

    Then again, if such an incident had taken place on a rainy day, even at 120 knots, the A-321 would have crashed into the IAF helicopter as braking action is poor on a wet surface.
    The commander of the A-321, Captain S S Kohli (who is also an instructor pilot), wondered how the chopper could have landed when he (Kohli) had been given clearance by the ATC for take-off. "The chopper just landed without taking a landing clearance. I cannot say much more,'' Capt Kohli said. The commander steered the aircraft into rapid exit taxiway Whisky, which is located between the runway intersection

and the end of runway 27. The IAF helicopter was just 300 metres away from the A-321 when the latter came to a halt.
    "There seems to have been no communication between Pratap 1 and Pratap 2. Pratap 1, the only helicopter in touch with the Mumbai ATC, landed at 9.20 am and Pratap 2 landed at 9.17 am without informing the ATC,'' said an airport source, adding that as the choppers were flying low they were not detected on the radar.
    "It was a dramatic braking action as sparks flew and smoke rose from the aircraft wheels and fire brigade engines sped to the spot anticipating a fire,'' said the source. Said an A-320 commander, "It
could have ended in a catastrophe as all the ingredients for disaster were present. Here was an aircraft trying to stop at high speed with sparks flying off its wheel even as it sped along with full fuel tanks and a full passenger load.''
    The seriousness of the situation dawned on the passengers when the A-321 took the turn into the taxiway and the IAF chopper appeared in full view of the passengers. "There was complete silence inside the cabin. Then the commander informed us about the aborted take-off,'' said a cabin crew member on board the flight.

    At 9.20 am, Pratap 1 landed on runway 27, as scheduled, followed by the other IAF chopper at 9.21 am. Sources said that Pratap 1, which landed at 9.20 am, had Patil, along with Maharashtra governor S C Jamir and some other dignitaries on board. An IAF spokesman said in New Delhi, "The pilots of the chopper had followed the instructions for the Bombay approach meticulously. The presidential entourage was cleared to take off from INS Kunjali and land at Santa Cruz between the 'R' (Roger) and 'W' (Whiskey) taxiways. An inquiry has been ordered by the IAF into the incident''. The inquiry may include questioning of officials responsible for sanitizing the airport which is mandatory before and during VVIP movement.
    IAF sources said before every VVIP movement the airspace has to be closed for other flights, clearly indicating lapses on the part of the ground controlling authority. The President was to fly to Gondia by her special IAF plane to attend a function.

The A-321 is attended to immediately after the near-miss

Capt S S Kohli with his sons


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