Mumbai: Pilot spots 'paragliders', Juhu airport on high alert

Following Pawan Hans pilot's complaint about spotting “six paragliders off Juhu airport”, aviation officials inform police, ATS; security stepped up around the airport

A pilot’s warning about spotting paragliders in the airspace around the Juhu airport has resulted in a security scare.

Also read: Take-off of flights aborted at Mumbai airport after suspected security breach

The pilot said he saw “six paragliders at an altitude of 1,000 to 1,500 feet above sea level”. File pic for representation
The pilot said he saw “six paragliders at an altitude of 1,000 to 1,500 feet above sea level”. File pic for representation

The pilot, who was taxiing towards the main runway from the hangar with 11 passengers and a co-pilot on January 13, said he saw “six paragliders at an altitude of 1,000 to 1,500 feet above sea level”.

Pic for representation
Pic for representation

He aborted takeoff to his offshore location and alerted Air Traffic Control (ATC), saying the gliders were in the airspace roughly above the JW Marriott. The ATC called pilots who had taken off just before the Pawan Hans, but they all said they had seen no suspicious objects.

The local police and the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) were also alerted. Airport Authorities of India officials said they have sought additional deployment at several gates and hangars and along the airport periphery.

“Officials concerned were immediately informed,” said an airport official. “Helicopters that took off before the VT PWB were contacted and were asked whether they noticed any such flying objects nearby. But all of them denied noticing anything of this sort.”

Pawan Hans General Manager (Western Region) Sanjay Kumar said the pilot followed standard operating procedure and alerted the Juhu ATC, after which the local police were informed. “As far as raising the security, Pawan Hans internally always has security personnel at its hangars. The security of the airport is AAI’s concern,” said Kumar.

The local police also wrote to the city police commissioner and the ATS about the incident. Santacruz Senior Inspector Shantanu Pawar confirmed the incident, but refused to comment further.

“Keeping in mind the Republic Day and the paragliders incident that took place on January 13, we have beefed up the security at Juhu Airport as a precautionary measure,” Pawar told mid-day.

Read Story: Mumbai on high alert after bomb threat message

A letter written by Pawar to the ATS said: “According to information received from Captain RS Nandal on January 13 at 5.46 pm, while taxiing a Pawan Hans helicopter with registration VT-PWB at Juhu Airport, he saw six paragliders coming from ONGC helibase side and heading towards the Bombay High side. They were gliding at a height of 1,000 to 1,500 feet above sea level and around round 1.5 to 2 nautical miles away from the airport. They were flying from northwest to southeast direction. The location of these paragliders was above JW Marriot hotel [latitude 19.09 and longitude 72.82].”

The letter was copied to the Crime Branch, Special Branch and the main Control Room.

“Yes, an incident involving parachutes or paragliders over Juhu airport was brought to our notice,” Inspector General (Maharashtra ATS) Niket Kaushik told mid-day. “We are verifying the incident, though it is currently not a matter of huge concern for us.”

ATS chief Vivek Phansalkar said it was not clear if the objects were really paragliders. “The nearest paragliders point is Kamshet and we have verified that no paraglider from there had entered Juhu airspace. We have also checked nearby points with consultation of various agencies but haven’t found anything. There doesn't seem to be any possible take off or landing spots near the area. We are also looking into the possibility of them being balloons or kites as the festival of Sankranti was just the next day.”

Intelligence warning
Recent intelligence inputs to Maharashtra from central agencies have warned of attacks on installations in Mumbai and the state.

“Mumbai and other important cities in Maharashtra are high on the target list of the trans-border terrorists,” said a recent input. “As several important defence establishments are also located in Maharashtra, you are requested to review the security arrangements of such defence establishments located in your area and initiate enhanced precautionary and preventive security of such establishments.”

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