Ghatkopar plane crash: Did on-board explosive cause crash? Ask cops

Jul 06, 2018, 13:54 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

The Ghatkopar police have asked the forensic lab about the presence of any inflammable material on the ill-fated plane, besides the aviation fuel it had

Ghatkopar plane crash: Did on-board explosive cause crash? Ask cops
Policemen, firemen, politicians and citizens were seen walking all over the crash site on June 28, possibly destroying crucial evidence, experts say. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

Was it an explosive inside the aircraft that caused it to crash in Ghatkopar on June 28? On Wednesday, the Ghatkopar police asked the state FSL if there was any explosive residue found in the debris.

K Y Kulkarni, acting director, State FSL, Kalina, said, "We have been asked to find out the reason for the explosion. Also, the sealed samples that were collected from the crash site were submitted to us, and we have already started the probe." When asked to elaborate, Kulkarni said, "Our General Analytical Department (GAD) scientists will ascertain the nature of fuel found in the debris. We will also look for presence of any other explosive material. The police are keen to know if there was any inflammable material, other than aviation fuel, or explosive material inside the plane that could have triggered the fire and crash. We will complete our study and submit our report."

Rukmini Krishnamurthy, former director, state FSL, said, "The police are trying to cover all angles, including act of terror, and hence they have raised the query on explosives. There have been security concerns about smaller planes possibly being used to carry out 9/11 type of attacks. A small explosive with auto ignition could cause a fire and subsequent crash, which might look like an accident. Only an in-depth forensic analysis can rule out such probabilities."

All angles being probed
Additional Commissioner of Police (East Region) Lakhmi Gautam confirmed the query raised to FSL, and said, "We are probing the case from all possible angles and have to rule out all probabilities. We have also written to DGCA and other agencies seeking clarity, as they are experts in aviation. We will wait for the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) report on the reason behind the crash-landing of the plane."

When asked if the local police would share the evidence collected with AAIB after the crash, Gautam said, "We are always willing to share the information with AAIB, and as local police have registered a case of accidental death under section 174 of CrPC, we will need to probe the case." When asked if they had any clue about the material the AAIB has collected from the site, other than the black box and data recorder, Kulkarni said he did not know. "We have the samples that we had collected. We will submit our findings to the police."

Also read: Ghatkopar plane crash: Aircraft was 10 miles away when it went off radar

Urgent need for SOP
A classic case of too many cooks spoiling the broth, or in this case, too many agencies confusing a plane crash investigation. At the crash site were a clutch of forensic scientists from the state forensic science laboratory; the Mumbai fire brigade; the local police; political leaders visiting the crash scene; hundreds of citizens and finally 24 hours later, the arrival of the two-member investigating team from AAIB. It is evident that completely lack of coordination between these agencies will now make it difficult to reconstruct the exact manner in which the crash happened.

Senior forensic scientists attached to the State FSL, said, "The mobile forensic van with a five-member team, including the driver, reached the spot around 2.15 pm. The main control room then wanted a team of seniors to be sent to the site, and a police van was promptly sent to ferry them. All samples were then collected as required." However, according to a forensic expert, before the experts could reach the site, the public, police and firemen were already there. Then in the rain and water used for dousing the fire, all crucial evidence was washed away. For instance, it is not clear if the plane crashed into something before hitting the under-construction pillar as there is no evidence of paint from the plane on the pillar as it may have been washed away.

Secondly, with the rain and firemen's hose and the public and politicians moving around the site, no bloodstains could be found. Experts fear that by the time the AAIB team visited the crash site, most of the crucial evidence was lost, said an official. The worst is that even after collecting the evidence of June 28, the samples were finally handed over for examination only on July 4. "We have not got any samples for DNA examination nor viscera for toxicology findings. We were told that as all bodies were identified and handed over for last rites, DNA and other tests would not be required," the expert said. "Better coordination between all agencies and FSL will help scientists understand the crime/crash scene scenario better, which in turn will help the investigators to solve the mystery, if any," the officer said.

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