AFTER FOUR days of shutdown, the main runway of Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport opened for operations on Friday evening after removal of a SpiceJet Boeing 737-800 aircraft that had overshot the runway on Monday night.
In all, it took around 90 hours to lift the aircraft from the mud where it was stuck and bring it on to the tarmac to be pulled away.
At 11.10 pm on Thursday, the aircraft was pulled out of the mud by an Air India team using their Disabled Aircraft Recovery Kit (DARK) equipment. A 160-member team — 60 from Mumbai International Airport Limited’s (MIAL) airside operations, maintenance, projects and fire team and 100 contractual staffers — together pulled the aircraft away from the runway.
The runway was back in operation on Friday at 4.47 pm.
Late Monday, flight SG 6237 arrived from Jaipur amid heavy rainfall and skidded off the end of the main runway. While all 181 passengers on board were safely evacuated from the aircraft, the carrier suffered significant damage, with the flight data stating it was at a speed of 148 km/hr before coming to a halt 160 m away from the main runway.
SpiceJet was later issued a notice by Directorate General of Civil Aviation over the incident. Mumbai airport is the world’s busiest with a single primary runway, overtaking London’s Gatwick airport in 2017.
With the carrier stuck in mud since Monday, at least 293 flights were cancelled and several others diverted. At least 139 arriving and 154 departing flights were cancelled. On Thursday, seven flights were diverted, and Indigo had to cancel 18 departures and 16 arrivals at the airport. On Friday, five flights were diverted and nine had to do a go-around.
An airport official said the team assigned to remove the aircraft from muddy and grassy surface had to work under constant rains for 24 hours every day. The fuel and cargo was first emptied. A pathway of 130X20 meters using stone bed and gravels was created. “On top of the stone bed, steel plates and FRP sheets were placed to enable the Poclain equipment and tow tugs to tow the aircraft weighing around 41 tonnes,” the official said.
The disabled aircraft had no nose gear. The team of engineers and technicians positioned a trailer in front of the aircraft to support it from the front, as Poclain and tow tugs pulled it from behind.
“All this while, every care was taken to ensure that the disabled aircraft is not damaged any further and that there are no safety incidents to staff engaged in the aircraft recovery,” a spokesperson from MIAL said.
Mukesh Bhatia, Regional Director of western region for Air India, said: “We first received a call on Tuesday midnight but due to heavy rains and members of our team being in Mangalore (an Air India Express flight had skidded off the taxiway on June 30), we got delayed. Our retrieval team faced a huge challenge to raise the aircraft on to the tarmac as the front landing gear was badly stuck in the mud.”