IN A complaint to the Karnataka police on Thursday, Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s office said a New Delhi-Hubli special flight (VT-AVH) carrying him and four others suffered “unexplained technical failures” midair, and the matter should be probed as “intentional tampering” could not be ruled out.
According to the complaint filed by Rahul’s aide, Kaushal Vidyarthee, the flight took off around 9.20 am. 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.”
According to the DGCA website, the aircraft VT-AVH, is a Dassault Falcon 2000 owned by Religare Aviation Ltd, which registered the aircraft in India on February 4, 2011.
Sources in the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said the regulator would investigate the incident. “The operator has reported the incident to us. As per operator’s report, it was a snag of autopilot mode, and the pilot shifted to manual mode and landed safely. Shutdown of autopilot incidents are not uncommon. For any VIP flight, the DGCA conducts a detailed examination. We shall do so here also,” said a source in the DGCA.
— Congress (@INCIndia) April 26, 2018
Meanwhile, DCP (Law and Order), Hubli-Dharwad Police, Renuka Sukumar confirmed that an FIR had been filed against the pilots. “An FIR is being taken up in the Gokul Road Police Station against the pilots on the complaint of Sri Shakir Sannadhi, general secretary, KPCC, under Indian Penal Code Sections 287 and 336, read with Section 11 of the Aircraft Act 1934,’’ said Sukumar.
Section 287 of the IPC pertains to “negligent conduct with respect to machinery’’, Section 336 pertains to “endangering life or personal safety of others’’, and Section 11 of the Aircraft Act 1934 prescribes a penalty of two years imprisonment or a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh for flying an aircraft in a dangerous manner.
(With inputs from ENS)