In what may point towards a serious lapse in security and threat to the safety of passengers, a dummy stun grenade was found on an Air India flight after it landed at Jeddah airport on Saturday morning.
Senior sources in the Ministry of Civil Aviation said that the Mumbai- Hyderabad- Jeddah flight, AI 965, was one of the “three aircraft on stand up operations” for a “VVIP duty recently involving a VVIP travel from USA” and that it was the Boeing 747’s first commercial flight after the VVIP duty.
And while the stun grenade was a “used one not capable of detonating”, AI suspended two security staff members at Mumbai and Hyderabad airports after carrying out preliminary inquiry. The Civil Aviation Minister will be holding a security review next week with senior officers of the ministry and heads of all connected organisations in this regard.
A source said, “After arrival in Jeddah, the crew reported that a hand grenade was found in the upper deck (J- class) of the aircraft. As informed by the airport manager at Jeddah, the grenade found on the aircraft was a used stun grenade not capable of detonating.”
Another official said that he “cabin crew saw a box rolling out from underneath a passenger seat”. “The authorities were informed on landing and plane was taken to a cordoned off area, where the security officials took out the grenade. It was found to be without explosives. The flight was then given a clearance to operate further,” he said.
Air India, however, downplayed the incident. A press release by AI said: “After screening the aircraft the object was found to be a plastic wrapper, the Jeddah airport security cleared the aircraft for further operations.”
Sources said that the used stun grenade carried Anti-Riot Stun Grenade mark on it and is believed to be manufactured at BSF’s Tekanpur-based tear smoke unit. It was left by the NSG, which was undertaking an anti-hijack drill in the aircraft. “The grenade may have remained there after the mock drill. It has BSF markings,” Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju was quoted as having said at Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh.
Government sources remained tight-lipped about the “VVIP” for whose movement the flight was kept on standby and AI officials denied that it was for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the US. Instead, AI sources said, the plane was operating on the Delhi- Frankfurt route during the time PM was in the US.
Meanwhile, taking a serious note of the security lapse, Ministry of Civil Aviation asked Air India Joint MD Nasir Ali and BB Dash of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Safety to go to Mumbai to carry out an enquiry and ensure action against those responsible. Following this, AI Security Managers A J Joseph in Hyderabad and J G Vincent in Mumbai were suspended. Orders were also issued for suspension of ground handling officers as well as security supervisors who took over the plane from the security agencies.
Meanwhile, on being questioned about the incident at an Air Force press conference, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said, “The plane is parked in the technical area in Palam, which is under our control, but whenever it deals with VVIP (movement) the security is taken over by the appropriate agency of the government. Now that the government of India has ordered an inquiry, Air Force will play a part in terms of giving information that is required but won’t order its own an inquiry.”