Mumbai: Suspecting it had hidden gold, Customs delay flight take-off

Updated: Dec 13, 2014, 10:03 IST | Neha LM Tripathi |

AI flight had to turn back after officials suspected it was carrying smuggled gold, delaying it by 45 minutes; however, gold worth Rs 1.21 crore had already been seized from it earlier

An Air India flight was delayed by 45 minutes after Mumbai Customs officials delayed its take-off procedure on suspicion that it was carrying smuggled gold. Eventually, it turned out to be a misunderstanding, since officials had already managed to seize gold worth crores of rupees from it earlier.

AIU officials recovered 5 kg of gold, worth R1.21 crore, from the overhead baggage compartment of the Goa-bound Air India flight
AIU officials recovered 5 kg of gold, worth R1.21 crore, from the overhead baggage compartment of the Goa-bound Air India flight

The incident occurred with Air India flight AI-984 (Dubai-Mumbai-Goa), which arrived at Terminal 2 at around 4.33 am (scheduled arrival time was 4.05 am) yesterday. It then made its way to the apron area, where stopover flights wait before leaving for their destinations.

The flight left from the apron at 5.50 am, half an hour after its scheduled departure time. As the pushback vehicle carted it onto the taxiway (the path joining the apron to the runway), officials from the Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) recalled it and made it return to the apron, acting on a tip-off that the flight was carrying smuggled gold.

However, the recall turned out to be a goof-up. Gold had, indeed, been on the flight, but it was already removed from the aircraft while it was waiting in the apron.

AIU officials had found gold bars weighing 5 kg worth Rs 1.21 crore in the overhead luggage compartment. According to an airport official who refused to be identified, “The gold bars had already been taken out from the flight, but due to lack of coordination between the Customs and the airline, the flight was called back to the apron.”

This official further added that when the aircraft was recalled, its doors remained shut and Customs didn’t check the flight. Regulations require permissions to be taken to inspect an aircraft that has already left the apron area. The flight was finally able to take off for Goa at 6.35 am.

A spokesperson for Air India confirmed the incident, saying, “The flight AI 984, on Wednesday, was delayed by 45 minutes due to Customs reasons.” A Customs officer explained, on condition of anonymity, “Unclaimed seizures are made when any airport employee has to collect the gold from a spot, but fails to do so due to vigilant checking and frisking by the CISF and Customs.

Hence, Customs officials recover the gold before the staffer arrives, or when the smuggler finds the colluding person to be unavailable.” The officer further added that in the past, unclaimed seizures have, been made from under a baggage belt, aerobridge dustbin, inside the flight, and the luggage trolley both in it, and under it.

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