Mumbai: What happens in the air stays in the air. That appears to be the policy of Air India, or to be precise, a particular pilot of the national carrier, who apparently failed to report an incident of mid-air turbulence that resulted in damage to the aircraft and injuries to about 20 persons on board.
During a MiD DAY investigation it was revealed that Air India flight AI 348 Delhi-Shanghai on July 5, was caught in a major turbulence mid-air, resulting in as many as 18 passengers — including a Delhi-based businessman — and two cabin crew persons sustaining injuries. The flight started its journey from Delhi to Shanghai with 60 passengers and 11 crewmembers on board at around 11.40 am and was in Indian airspace at around 1.15 pm when it witnessed a major turbulence. "Everything was fine during the first one and a half hours of the journey. The trouble started following an announcement for all passengers and crew to be seated; approximately 10 minutes later the aircraft entered an air pocket, experiencing major turbulence. Passengers fell down on the floor, most of armrests were damaged, the overhead baggage locker opened up and some of the gear tumbled down on passengers, pillows and blankets were flying around inside the plane and one of the toilets partially caved in," a crew member present said. While the crewmember did not wish to be named, MiD DAY is in possession of the recorded conversation.
Shaken and stirred
"One of the passengers who did not listen to the crew and decided to use the lavatory could not come out for half an hour because of the upheaval. When he emerged, he was bleeding profusely. The toilet where he was stuck was badly damaged. At least 18 travellers were bleeding, but nobody could help them as the seatbelt sign was still on. Passengers were requesting the crew to pass on a message to the pilot to land somewhere so the injured could be treated. But the pilot did not listen and decided to go ahead. He could have easily landed at Kolkata or somewhere as we were in Indian airspace," the crewmember added.
The first aid to injured passengers was finally administered only an hour before landing. "Usko bolo waapas jaao... usko bolo waapas jaao.. Captain ko bol do.. ek din late hoga to chalega (Tell the pilot to return. We won't mind if we are delayed by one day)," passengers asked the crew to tell the pilot. The pilot did not listen. The rear lavatory was repaired for temporary use.
The pilot who was allegedly at fault did not apologise to the passengers. "We have been working with Air India for so long. Pilots do rectify their mistakes and don't mind saying sorry to passengers. This pilot in command did not even do that," said another crew member who was present on the aircraft.
"The pilot in command is supposed to make a special report if any such thing happens. This pilot did not do that; he just wrote there was a little turbulence. The matter was not even reported to the airline or DGCA. The pilot in command threatened us not to open our mouth before anyone. Since he was on deputation with DGCA as Flight Inspector Director (FID) earlier and still has a strong hold in the regulatory body, we decided to keep mum," he added.
Top AI sources said that the Airbus 330 aircraft, which was used for the journey, has now been decommissioned due to serious internal damages.
The other side
"There is nothing to hide. We reported the matter on the very day to DGCA and the airline. A proper inquiry is in progress. Those who got hurt are people who did not listen to the instructions of the pilot and we cannot do anything about that," said Captain SPS Suri, who is the pilot in question. Captain R Mirchandani, co-pilot, could not be reached for comment.
In case of such an occurrence, the pilot in command has to file a debriefing report immediately after landing. Also the flight engineer on ground should take a printout of all Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) readings, make his own report and submit it to investigating agencies, including DGCA. It is also mandatory for the pilot to fax the report to the airline immediately and the carrier is supposed to inform the DGCA
DGCA chief Prashant Sukul contradicted the claims of Captain Suri. "About two days ago, we were informed about the matter through a private complaint and have asked the airline to provide a detailed information on the said incident. We are investigating the matter further." The Air India CMD also maintained that he was not aware of any such incident, again confounding the claims of Captain Suri, according to whom the matter is in the knowledge of the airline. "I am unaware on any such occurrence. I will investigate what exactly transpired during the journey. If indeed something of this nature has taken place adequate action will be taken against people responsible," Rohit Nandan, CMD, Air India told MiD DAY.
Minister for civil aviation Ajit Singh also maintained that he did not know of any such incident. "I have received no information regarding the occurrence of any such instance from inside the department or any other sources. If such an episode has taken place, action will definitely be initiated. I will personally investigate the matter," Singh told MiD DAY.