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6.06.2010


Private aircraft strayed 25 nautical miles over the Arabian Sea
Mumbai radar controllers failed to check errant plane
Mumbai, June 5, DH News Service:

Days before the Mangalore air crash, radar controllers at Mumbai airport misguided a private, single-engine Caravan aircraft letting it stray 25 nautical miles over the Arabian Sea before it flew over the sensitive no-fly zone.

A file photo of the Caravan aircraft.According to DGCA sources, the incident took place on May 4 when, after flying over the sea “two times more than the gliding distance” around 8:45 pm, the aircraft, which was being piloted by Capt Klaus Eckhardt, a foreign national, who had along an Indian co-pilot, it flew over the Parsi “Cone of Silence” (Malabar Hills), the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC),  Raj Bhavan, other sensitive installations, and VIP residential areas.

It was when the radar controllers realised that the aircraft, owned by the Karnataka-based mining company MSPL Ltd, five of whose officials were onboard, was flying un-noticed in the prohibited area that alarm bells went off. The aircraft was then asked to return to its assigned flight path.

Complaint

An inquiry was initiated on May 6 after co-pilot Capt Siddharth Sharan sent an e-mail complaint to DGCA joint director general A K Chopra and followed it up by writing a letter to Director General of Civil Aviation S N A Zaidi. The inquiry is being headed by an officer of the rank of deputy director stationed in Mumbai.

In his complaint, filed as part of “voluntary report of contravention of Rule 12 of Aircraft Rules, 1937 (flying into prohibited area),” Capt Sharan revealed that the flight took off from Koppal to Mumbai near which approach radar vectored the aircraft for approach for landing on runway 14.

His complaint further said: “Capt Eckhardt has forcibly flown over prohibited area overhead…even after I warned him twice”. The pilot “also went 25 nautical miles away from land. This is a display of utter disregard to rules of air and safety of passengers as Cessna Grand Caravan is supposed to remain within the gliding distance at all times.”
Capt Sharan claimed that the pilot “prevented crew from operating radio and give May Day Call” in accordance with laid down rules. The aircraft not only had no cockpit voice recorder but had no sea survival equipment either.

A May Day Call is an internationally-recognised distress signal used in voice procedure radio communications. A May Day situation might arise when a vessel or aircraft is in grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance.

Claiming that the incident “could have been avoided”, Capt Sharan’s complaint indicated that the radar controllers could have been more alert.

What has caused consternation is not just that the radar controllers misguided the aircraft and allowed it to violate the no-fly zone, but that the plane ran the risk of straying further than its gliding distance over the sea because in the event of an engine failure it could have crashed with disastrous consequences for the five passengers and two crew members.

Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) sources, however, said that despite Capt Sharan’s written complaint the enquiry has been progressing at a slow pace, giving rise to suspicions that moves are afoot to deflect the blame from the radar controllers.

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