WITH two near Sully-like episodes witnessed on Indian waters, the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) has devised an elaborate plan to conduct Search And Rescue (SAR) operations in the eventuality of an aircraft ditching in the sea. Sully, the Tom Hanks-starrer narrated the story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s January 2009 emergency landing of a commuter jet on the Hudson River, in which all 155 passengers and crew survived the crash.
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According to sources in the central agency, on July 26 this year, the Mumbai Air Traffic Control (ATC) intimated the Indian Coast Guard Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC), Mumbai, that the pilot of the flight Boeing 777-300 (EK 652) with 319 passengers on board, at a distance of 200 nautical miles (NM) reported smoke on-board whilst on passage from UAE to Maldives (Male). The flight was diverted to Mumbai for an emergency landing.
“ICG being a SAR coordinator for maritime, the diversion was reported to us. We alerted all the associated SAR resource agencies to be vigil. At the same time two of our ships on patrol were pressed into action on the approach path of the aircraft to meet any exigency,” a senior official privy to the details told The Indian Express.
“Merchant ships and offshore oil platforms were also informed about the possibility of the aircraft landing into the sea. The State Disaster Management agency was also kept posted of the developing situation and was asked to keep assistance like ambulances and hospital beds ready in case the aircraft ditches in the waters,” added the official.
The aircraft managed to make an emergency landing at Mumbai Airport.
The second incident was reported on September 15, when a Gulf Aircraft GFA 61 reported burning smell on board with 179 passengers when the aircraft was 100 NM — at least 200 km off Mumbai.
The ATC diverted the aircraft to Mumbai for a precautionary landing. At the same time, MRCC Mumbai was intimated. “The same drill was followed and medical assistance was kept on standby to ensure that we are able to rescue as many passengers as possible,” added the official.
In order to deal with any Mass Rescue Operation (MRO) involving an aircraft ditching into the sea, the Incident Command System (ICS) has been set up by the Coast Guard to effectively coordinate rescue operations.
“The ICS closely liaisons with the state disaster group. Four major sections have been established in the ICG — Operations, Planning and Logistics & Safety/Information Liaison. The members of ICS have been drawn from Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL), Air India, Aircraft Operators Committee (AOC), Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), INHS Asvini and the Immigration department,” revealed another official.
“It is not necessary that an aircraft make an emergency landing on land, the emergency can also be on water and therefore we have to prepare for any such eventuality. The first six hours after an aircraft crash lands on water are the golden hours for providing assistance to passengers without life jackets, as the person might not be able to swim for more than six hours. Once an emergency is declared by the ATC , we monitor the aircraft and simultaneously move our ships and also ask other merchant vessels in the route of the distressed aircraft to provide assistance,” explained an official.
“Once rescued, the passengers need urgent medical aid, and therefore ambulances should be kept on standby by the local authorities and even a special corridor for movement of these ambulances should be created so that we save their lives,” added the official.
“ICG is the national authority for maritime search and rescue in India covering an area of 4.6 million sq km. Coordination on part of all the stakeholders and regular rehearsals of Mass Rescue Operation exercise is required so that we meet any eventuality on the sea effectively,” K Natarajan, Additional Director General, Coast Guard Commander (Western Seaboard) told The Indian Express.
On May 3 this year, one such exercise of MRO was carried out. “The primary aim of the exercise was to demonstrate a real time scenario. Medical triage camps were established at four locations. MCGM actively participated and undertook large scale mobilisation,” said another official.
A total of 301 personnel from various agencies of Disaster Management Group, including 37 doctors, 23 nursing staff, nine pharmacist, 16 dresser, 15 paramedics staff and 20 ambulances, were positioned,” added the official.