Ghatkopar plane crash: Aircraft was 10 miles away when it went off radar
Experts hint at technical snag or visibility issues for crash; aircraft owners, aviation mishap investigators collect evidence from site
The last recorded conversation between ATC Mumbai and the King C90 pilots that crashed in Ghatkopar on Thursday was 'We are breaking off, we will report to Juhu ATC'. The air space where the call was recorded was the spot for an official switchover from ATC Mumbai to ATC Juhu. ATC Juhu then tried to reach out to the pilots and when there was no reply, they waited for some time before alerting ATC Mumbai, who found the plane had gone off their radar. They quickly alerted all agencies concerned. Highly-placed officials attached to the ATC Juhu said, "The last conversation was recorded when the aircraft was in the air approximate 10 miles [16km] away from Juhu Aerodrome and almost preparing for landing. Therefore, as routine practice, from Mumbai ATC, the pilot was being switched over to Juhu ATC at the technical point [where the accident happened]."
Juhu Aerodrome Director Ashok Kumar Verma confirmed the same and said, "The charter plane took off as per the schedule and was in the air for nearly 47 minutes. It covered the air test route flying from Juhu airport and headed towards Surat airspace and after successfully completing the circuit was returning to Juhu aerodrome when it met with the accident."
The wreckage at the crash site. Pic/Sameer Markande
When asked if visibility was an issue at the time of take-off from Juhu Aerodrome, Verma replied in the negative, stating, "Visibility was over 2,000 feet. We have allowed charters and helicopters to take off and land even at a visibility of 1,000 feet."
When asked if the DGCA had issued any fresh guidelines post the accident on Thursday, the official replied in the negative.
Meanwhile, Captain MRSK Vinod, a former Indian Air force pilot, who is the Chief of Flight Safety at UY Aviation (Pvt) Ltd, arrived in Mumbai on Thursday night and visited the crash site at Ghatkopar along with two members from the Aviation Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB). They inspected the site and collected some material for investigation purposes.
Technical snag to blame?
Captain Vinod said, "We have got the required evidence, and whatever was collected by the police and other rescue teams, including the black box, has already been handed over to the AAIB team. We have also taken photographs, videographs and have also recorded statements of witnesses." Aviation experts have hinted that the aircraft may have developed a sudden technical snag in its engine or as the plane was in Instrument Landing System (ILS) mode, which allows the aircraft to continue operations in low visibility, it might have developed an issue, due to which the pilot may have lost direction or both, which could have led to the accident. Charter planes fly at a height of 4,000 to 5,000 feet and there is no parachute on board for any emergency. Captain Vinod preferred not to comment on the reason for the accident, saying investigation was underway.
Were pilots reluctant to fly?
On the allegation by family members of the deceased pilots that they were reluctant to fly the plane because of poor visibility, Captain Vinod said, "We are professionals and must understand that a DGCA-Approved Maintenance Organisation has cleared the plane for testing, which is why the pilots agreed to fly. If they had refused, the testing would immediately have been aborted as per procedure." An officer at Ghatkopar police station said, "We have cordoned off the area. As far as investigations are concerned, we are only completing the paper work by recording statements and ensuring that the right claimant gets the body for the last rituals. We have no role in the investigation."
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