AS multiple probes began into the death of Air India engineer Ravi Subramanian after he was sucked into the engine of an aircraft Wednesday evening, it has emerged that there were violations of safety protocol during the pushback of Flight AI 619. According to the ground staff working at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, the aircraft maintenance engineer (AME), who gives clearance to the pilot to start the engine following pushback, was not present at the spot. This may have led to confusion between the ground staff and the captain and co-pilot before the engine was started. Also, the chocks (wedges) meant to hold the aircraft’s wheels before it taxies out were absent.
On Wednesday evening, superintendent service engineer Subramanian (54) was sucked into the Hyderabad-bound aircraft’s engine during the pushback process just before departure. Before the process of disconnecting the tow bar was completed, the plane’s engines started, sucking in Subramanian and instantly killing him.
An e-mail sent by maintenance engineer Pradeep Singh Rawat to his seniors on Thursday evening gives an eyewitness’s account of what transpired.
Rawat has said the aircraft was pushed back from parking bay 28L towards the taxiway, following which service engineer Subramanian instructed helper E T Shinde to disconnect the tow bar. The incident occurred while Shinde was disconnecting the tow bar and Subramanian was monitoring the procedure with his back to the engine.
According to the standard operating procedure (SOP), a pilot only starts the engine once he receives clearance from the aircraft maintenance engineer that the tow bar is disconnected.
Meanwhile, Captain A G Sharma, the pilot, said in his statement to the Mumbai Police that he received clearance from the air traffic control after which he started the engine. An investigation into whether he was given ground clearance is still on.
While three persons usually assist during pushback, in this case only two men were present. The aircraft maintenance engineer was reportedly busy. Shinde narrowly escaped death. “He sat down near the tow bar which saved him. Meanwhile, the pilot realised the engine had malfunctioned as an alert was sounded,” said an employees’ union member.
An official spokesperson from Air India refused to comment. “The investigations are still on. The victim’s family has been offered Rs 5 lakh as compensation and a job will be offered to one family member,” he said.