Delayed action by the flight crew resulted in near crash of the chartered plane which was carrying Congress president Rahul Gandhi from Delhi to Hubli in April this year, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said on Friday.
On April 26, the Congress scion was scheduled to visit Hubli from New Delhi as part of the then-ongoing campaign for the Karnataka elections when his flight developed a technical snag. Alleging “intentional tampering”, the party had filed an FIR against the pilots and demanded a probe at the highest priority.
In a 30-page report released today, the two-member committee, which was set up by the DGCA to probe the incident, ruled out any prior technical snag in the Ligare Aviation-operated private Falcon 2000 jet, registered as VT-AVH.
Providing details about the incident, the DGCA said, “Crew initiated action only when the master cautions warning i.e after 15 seconds of autopilot disengage.”
The aviation regulator explained that a warning appears in the form of a red light and audio warning in the cockpit for the pilot to take action and avoid any mishap. “Due to lack of institutional awareness, the crew actions to control of the aircraft manually were slightly delayed,” the report said.
According to the complaint filed by Rahul’s aide, Kaushal Vidyarthee, the flight took off around 9.20 am on April 26. Besides Rahul and Vidyarthee, an SPG officer was also on board the flight. “At around 10:45 am, the aircraft suddenly tilted heavily on the left side and the altitude dipped steeply, combined with violent shuddering of the aircraft body… The weather outside was sunny, normal and not windy… A clanking noise was clearly audible from one side of the plane throughout the shuddering of the aircraft body. It was also learnt that the autopilot of the aircraft was not functioning,” said the complaint, addressed to Karnataka Director General and Inspector General of Police Neelmani N Raju.
Vidyarthee said the aircraft landed in Hubli on the third attempt. “The plane landed at Hubli at around 11:25 am while continuously shaking and making unusual audible sounds. The whole flight experience left the passengers with a lot of anxiety and distress and positively fearing for the lives. The crew was also apparently petrified and admitted that the flight was particularly frightening and uncommon,” he said in his complaint.
“It was apparent from the suspicious and faulty performance of the aircraft that the incidents of shuddering and altitude dipping were not natural or weather-related, but were due to some technical snags. Serious questions related to intentional tampering with the aircraft cannot also be brushed aside and are required to be addressed and investigated… The multiple unexplained technical snags during the flight coupled with the failure of the autopilot system raises serious issues of aviation safety and possible and intentional tampering with aircraft which endangered the life of its occupants,” he said.
Seeking a “thorough examination of the structural and mechanical elements of the aircraft” and “the persons attached with the maintenance of the aircraft”, the complaint urged the Karnataka police to ground the aircraft at Hubli and not allow it to fly till the investigation was over”.
Following this, civil aviation minister Suresh Prabhu had ordered a detailed probe into the incident. Subsequently, the DGCA had set up the panel, with one member each from the safety and airworthiness wings, to investigate the case.