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Cellphone landing by chopper at Juhu

Thank God for mobile phones! A chopper from the fleet of Pawan Hans was returning from an offshore operation on Saturday morning when the radio-communication device stopped functioning. Juhu aerodrome officials said the Air Traffic Control (ATC) Juhu only came to know about the location of the helicopter once the pilot called the tower landline from his cellphone, requesting for an emergency landing procedure.

“The Pawan Hans chopper had to coordinate the entire landing procedure with the ATC through cellphone after it reported a snag with the onboard communication device. The chopper was returning from offshore operations at the time, but was at a long distance and height, where the mobile network was not functional. It covered up the space with more speed than usual and on nearing the aerodrome, reduced the height to get into network area so it could contact ATC for landing,” said a senior AAI official in Mumbai.

According to top aviation expert Captain Akram Baig, landing via cellphone is not a standard procedure. “If the aircraft is visible to ATC tower, under visual flight rule (VFR), it can be permitted by the tower to coordinate the landing over phone. But the same is not a standard procedure and also is subject to further inquiry by regulator DGCA. Use of cellphone on board by a pilot or by a passenger is violation of laid down procedures. Such cases are rare; for me it is the first instance,” Baig told MiD DAY.

When contacted, Juhu aerodrome director, M Yadagiri too confirmed the incident. “We have also been informed that a Pawan Hans chopper reported a major communication problem after which it had to manage the landing process over phone. A complete emergency was declared before the landing and fire vehicles were stationed in the area. The matter has been reported to DGCA,” he said.

There were five people on board, including the pilot and ONGC officials. The emergency landing took place at 10.55 am on Saturday. The chopper was asked to land in a muddy area near the ATC watchtower of Juhu aerodrome. “I was physically monitoring the situation when the chopper was towed away at 12.45 pm, to its hangar with the help of a tractor,” Yadagiri added.

Despite repeated attempts, Pawan Hans officials could not be reached for comment. A detailed report on the matter has been sent to the office of DGCA and regional executive director’s office of AAI (Airports Authority of India) for investigation, sources claimed.  

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