Preliminary investigations into the incident on Saturday evening, where a Jet Airways flight was asked to abort take-off after airport officials spotted “parachutes” approaching the Mumbai airstrip, has revealed that the unmanned objects could have been Chinese lanterns.
Around 6 pm Saturday, “five small parachutes” were observed approaching from southwest direction of the Mumbai International Airport, moving towards north-east along the direction of the wind. Since they were crossing the runway intersection, the Air Traffic Control (ATC) was advised by Apron Control to ask pilots on approach or take-off to exercise caution.
Following this, a Jet Airways flight was asked to abort take-off and another flight was instructed to make a “go around”. An FIR was then registered at the Sahar police station.
“Until investigations are complete, we cannot confirm anything with certainty. However, the possibility of it being a Chinese lamp could not be ruled out,” Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Deven Bharti said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior police officer said, “The Mumbai runway is close to the Juhu beach where such lanterns are sold over the weekends. There is a possibility that these sky lanterns, owing to the wind condition, would have travelled towards the runway,” he said. “The pilot who spotted ‘some orange-yellow luminous flying objects’ would have mistook them for paragliders.” he added.
Recently, the Mumbai Police had written to the civic body, seeking a blanket ban on the use of these lanterns as they posed a security threat. “These lanterns could be mistaken for an UFO (Unmanned Flying Object) and brought down,” a officer added. “After this incident, we plan to write again to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, asking them to ban the sale of such lanterns,” he added.
The paper lanterns, highly popular among seaside revellers, consist of a candle or a fuel cell filled with paraffin wax suspended inside a frame of wire or bamboo. When lit, they float gently upwards and drift away, landing when the fuel runs out. They can reach up to 1,000 metres and drift for several miles in the breeze.