An incident story that turned into an accident

By Jacob K Philip

A near miss incident involving a Vistara Delhi -Pune flight and an Air India Mumbai-Bhopal flight could be one of the most discussed and widely reported aviation incidents recently in India. Though the report that was carried first by Times of India on 11th of this month and later taken up by most of the national and regional press has brought aviation safety to sharp focus again, it raises more questions on how safety issues like this are reported and interpreted by the media.

And it is also of concern that the whole details of the incident were leaked to the press by one or two  central government organizations and the press thereafter presented  it  to the public in the most unprofessional and unethical manner.

The is a gist of the report(s):

On February 7, night  an Air India flight (Mumbai to Bhopal AI 631, an Airbus A 319-112) was travelling at 27,000 ft towards Bhopal.  A Vistara flight (UK997, Airbus A320-251N) that was inn the same skies flying towards  Pune from Delhi at 29,000 feet suddenly started descending to 27,000. The astonished area controller asked the Vistara why it left the assigned level of 29,000 and going to 27,000 and the pilot of the craft retorted that she was told by the controller to do so. The argument was heard by the AI pilot too, because She too was tuned to the same frequency. Then to her horrors,  the AI commander noticed  the Vistara flight speeding towards her flight just 2.8km away. Then the Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) of both the aircraft issued a very urgent collision warning (resolution advisory). The warning said, “climb, climb” to the AI  flight and the pilot climbed up and turned right immediately to fly clear of Vistara, to escape the doom that was imminent. The level difference between two flights was just 100ft before AI flight climbed up, as per TCAS. When their paths crossed each other , the level difference was just 600ft. Whereas, the allowed minimum vertical separation was 1000ft.

The original reports published by the Times of India on two consecutive days and the rehash of those reports by the rest of the national media made the readers think that:

  1. The two aircraft were traveling in opposite directions
  2. Both aircraft were maintaining their respective levels- 27,000 and 29,000 feet – cruising along peacefully until the Vistara started descending from 29,000 to AI flight’s 27,000 level.
  3. It was the presence of mind Air India pilot that saved the lives of as many as 271 people on board of both aircraft. She acted precisely and swiftly when faced by a life threatening eventuality.
  4. But for the AI pilot, the two aircraft would have collided each other, face on.

But the actual facts couldn’t have been more different:

  1. Direction of the fights: The aircraft were not traveling face to face towards each other. At the time of conflict, the angle made by the flight paths of two aircraft were apporx 120 degrees – not 180. See the picture.
  2. No level flight: After taking off at 7.40 PM from Mumbai airport, the Air India aircraft was still in the climbing phase of the flight (It had to reach the cruising altitude of 33,000ft within a few minutes) and so it was gaining around 1000-1500 feet per minute, consistently.

And the Vistara flight, that had left Delhi 6.50PM was steadily losing altitude for a landing at Pune airport at 8.52PM.

Bothe aircraft were NOT staying at any particular altitude. One was climbing, the other was descending.

See altitudes of Air India flight 631 was maintaining before and after the incident (From 23,600 to 28,300 ft)  (Log from flight tracking site Flightaware).

  • At 08:28:23pm  23,600ft
  • At 08:28:54pm  24,600ft
  • At 08:29:24pm  25,100ft
  • At 08:30:01pm  25,800ft
  • At 08:31:00pm  27,200ft
  • At 08:31:40pm  27,400ft
  • At 08:32:40pm  27,800ft
  • At 08:33:07pm  28,300ft

And these were Vistara flight’s levels :

  • At 8:28:18pm  31,500ft
  • At 8:28:49pm  31,000ft
  • At 8.29:19pm  30,200ft
  • At 8.29:49pm  29,300ft
  • At 8.30:19pm  27,800ft
  • At 8.30:49pm  27,000ft
  • AT 8.31:38pm  26,600ft
  • At 8:32:09pm  26,600ft
  • At 8:32:43pm  26,800ft

So here we have two flights traveling at two level s heading to two destinations and whose flight paths were to be crossed at some point of time.  And just as it was the only logical step, the descending aircraft was told by the Mumbai Area Control to stay above and the climbing one to stay below, so that they could be allowed to pass each other at the first safest point of time when the vertical and lateral separation between the two was safest.
And to repeat that again, it was only natural for the Vistara flight to climb down sooner or later.

  1. The pilot who braved odds to save lives?
    Not really. The pilots of both the aircraft were just obeying the orders issued by the computer of TCAS of their respective aircraft. The AI commander climbed up because the TCAS decided that was better and ordered her to do so. Just like the Vistara co-pilot, who lowered her aircraft as per the TCAS command. And there was nothing marvellous in these actions either. All the pilots are thoroughly trained to do that and they are bound to follow the exact procedure. And the decision maker is not the pilot, but the TCAS computer. The course of action is decided collectively by the TCAS computers of both the planes after assessing the speed, altitude, mode of flight and bearing of both the planes.  And when the computers issue the verbal command ( to climb or to descend, mostly) the pilots have no choice but to obey blindly.
  2. A certain doom scenario? The chances of a collision was less, though the TCAS had ordered the pilots to climb/descend immediately. Even if the planes  were proceeded in the same levels maintaining the same speed,  the chances of actual collision were remote.

See the pictures that show the full flight paths of the aircraft and the enlarged view of the point where the Resolution Advisory was given by the TCAS around 8.30pm, 7th February.

One aircraft was at 27,000ft and the other was at 27,100ft altitude. The speed of the Air India flight was 1080km/hr. The Vistara flight was covering 763 km in an hour. The lateral separation between the flights was 2.8km. The bearing of Vistara flight was 177 degrees and that of AI was 74 degrees, approx.

If we draw two lines extending the path of both the aircraft, it can be seen  that  they would cross  each other at a distance of 2km (down) from the present position of Vistara fight. To reach that point, the time  taken by Vistara would have been 9 seconds. But during those 9 seconds, AI flight would  been moved 3.9km away from its present position.
So there were no collision going to happen.

But then what about the TCAS urgent warning?  Can computers go wrong?

The computers of course were not wrong. Only that, these systems always incorporate a factor of safety in all calculations. An extra allowance will be added to all the distances and heights. And that is how it should be.

The Area Controller factor

In the sensationalized report of Times of India, this character got only a passing mention – but that was damaging enough.  According to the report, the AC was taken by surprise  ‘seeing’ the Vistara fight at level 271.  The question the AC reported to have asked the Vistara pilot – “why are you here?”-  betrays his total lack of control over his job. A person constantly monitoring the flight can’t be taken off guard like that.  So he indeed was a villain, though not the main one, in the story.

The main villain and the heroine

And about the main one, there were enough ingredients- lucky for the reporter- to spice up the  whole thing: the co-pilot was a woman; she was alone; her Commander was not anywhere near at the critical moment.  A young, in experienced, ignorant girl of a pilot left  alone to find her way out of the mess she had made was the perfect dark background for the heroine of the story.
And what a heroine it was to be !

– A mature, elegant woman in her late forties with 20 years of flying experience under her belt, the Air India commander was the perfect picture of the cool, composed superwoman who averts imminent disaster at the nick of time.

So we have the day-two story:

Near miss: How AI’s woman pilot saved lives of 261 flyers

And it will be highly inappropriate to end this note without mentioning an effort actually made by the ToI reporter to guess why there was a ‘confusion’ between the Vistara flight  and the AC.

” There may have been confusion between the ATC and Vistara cockpit — which at that time had a woman co-pilot at the controls and the captain had taken a toilet break. The AI flight had a woman commander, Captain Anupama Kohli. Maybe there was a mix-up in communication in those tense seconds like what altitude instruction is being given to which lady. This has to be seen,” said sources.”

So the assumption is that the AC got confused between the two woman voices.  It is sad that the reporter didn’t pause for a second to think about the numerous male voices an AC hears throughout the day from the cockpits of so many flights, without confusing among them.  Before writing down this silly guess, the reporter should have tried to understand a basic norm too of radio communication : Before the start of each instruction, the controller has to spell  the call-sign of the aircraft he is giving the instruction. And when the pilot replies, she/he also has to say his call-sign at the end of his words. And above all, the aircraft is constantly being  monitored visually on the radar screen, by the AC at the Area Control.

The leak

How the details of the incident found their way to the media is intriguing, to say the least.

In both the reports,  there were details that were known only to the people directly involved in the incident and to the officials of DGCA who had received reports from the parties involved – the facts that the Vistara co-pilot and Air India commander were women and the Vistara male commander was taking a toilet break during the incident are examples.

The AC , AAI and the Vistara crew  would not have leaked the info, for obvious reasons.  The remaining parties are the Air India crew and the DGCA.  Given the heroine status given to and readily accepted by its senior pilot, Air India of course is the chief suspect.  And they couldn’t have done that alone.  The other half of the story unfolded the night of 7th February aboard the Vistara flight must have been filled in by someone who had access to the report Vistara sent to the DGCA.

But why?
Why should someone from Air India and/or DGCA take the pains to give these details to the press? Not for the sake of air safety, that is obvious. If that was so, the report would have been much more accurate and the day-two story glorifying the AI commander would never have happened.

The ongoing investigation by Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau will serve its purpose fully only if the answer to the above legitimate question too is found out.

(Jacob K Philip, a Doha based aviation analyst, is the honorary editor of Indian Aviation News Net. He can be reached at
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The untold story of Jet Airways Flight 9W555: How an airline and its pilot nearly crashed a passenger plane with 150 people onboard

By Jacob K Philip

An incident that was hardly noticed by the national media, though it was one of the gravest of the safety incidents ever occurred at any of the Indian airports, is bound to land Jet Airways, the operator airline, in deep trouble in the coming days.
The DGCA is viewing the incident very seriously and by all indications, both airline and the pilot who was hailed by the local newspapers and the social media as a hero who miraculously saved the lives of 142  odd passengers and eight crew, are to face the music.
It was at Kochi airport, Kerala, a southern state of India, that the chain of events that culminated in the near-disaster, started on the early morning hours of Tuesday, August 18, 2015.
When Jet Airways flight 9W 555, a Boeing 737-800, arrived from Doha, the Capital of Qatar, over Kochi at 5.45 in the morning, there were not enough visibility for the aircraft to land because of the haze that followed a heavy rain during the previous night. After holding over Kochi for a almost half an hour, the pilot decided to divert to Trivandrum. When it reached Trivandrum, visibility at Trivandrum also was less than what required for a visual landing. (ILS was not available because of a calibration issue).
The captain of the aircraft informed the Air Traffic Control (ATC) that the fuel levels were running low and he should be permitted to attempt landings even though the visibility was insufficient. The pilot tried to land from the ’14’ end of the runway thrice. By the time fuel level dropped to alarming levels according to the pilot and he made a final attempt at the other end of the runway, almost blindly. In between, he made a May Day call also.
A full emergency was declared (even before the May Day call) at the airport and all the steps were taken as per the SOP. ( Getting ambulances ready, informing city fire services also and the alerting the hospitals in the pre-made panel etc.).
The pilot however could manage to land the aircraft. The landing turned out to be without any hitch.
The whole incident would never have attracted not much of an attention, being one of the numerous diversion incidents during the inclement weather in Kerala airports, but for the grave issue of shortage of fuel involved and for the desperate frantic way the pilot behaved , making even a May Day call.
And it indeed was one of the most serious safety occurrences that could happen at any airport. And the government and the regulation authorities should be taking immediate actions, treating the incident at par with an actual air crash.
Here is why:

The core of the incident is a passenger aircraft using up almost all the fuel in-flight. There could be only three reasons for such a rarest of rare occurrence:

  1. The fuel policy of the airline that is not in line with international safety standards
  2.  Erroneous implementation of the fuel policy (If the policy was perfect)
  3. Wrong judgement and short-sighted en-route planning and erroneous/belated decision making of the pilot.

There are only remote chances for 1 to be true, because the SOPs simply will always be correct, everywhere, for all organizations.

So we can pass on to 2:
Though the fuel planning method vary across airlines, the fuel requirement for Boeing 737-800 aircraft is generally calculated as the sum of the following:

  1. Fuel to reach the destination
  2. Fuel to reach an alternate airport from the destination
  3. Fuel to fly for 45 minutes at cruising altitude from the alternate airport
  4. Fuel for planned hold
  5. Fuel to taxi
  6. 5% contingency.

So for B737-800s that fly from Doha to Kochi covering 1677 nm ( 3106 km), each of these items will work out like this:

  1. Fuel to reach the destination (kochi) = 10167 kgm (Allowing an allownace for a headwind of 50kts).
  2. Fuel to reach Trivandrum, the alternate airport, 191 km(103nm) away from kochi – 1497 kgm
  3. Fuel to fly for 45 minutes at cruising altitude from Trivandrum, the alternate airport: 2701 kgm
  4. Fuel for holding for 30 minutes: 1800 kgm
  5. Taxi fuel: 200kgm

The total of 1 to 5 is 16365 kgm

So 5% for contingency is 818.25 kgm

Therefore, the all-up total fuel required is 17183 kgm or 21478 litres

And the total fuel capacity of the aircraft is 20894 kgm (26118 litres).

Even if the aircraft had only 17183 kgm and not the maximum capacity of 20894 kgm, the 9W555 would have had 7016 kgm of fuel left when it reached Kochi.
Imagine it had spent an entire 30 minutes of holding time at Kochi. So the remaining fuel when it left for Trivandrum was 5216 kgm.
On reaching Trivandrum the fuel level would have become 5216-1497 kgm = 3719 kgm.
And how much time it spent at Trivandrum to do the three missed approaches and go-arounds? On 7.03 am, it had touched down. It reached Kochi by 5.50 AM. If it had spent 30 minutes at Kochi and it left it must have left Kochi by 6.20 AM. So, within 43 minutes, it reached Trivandrum, missed three approaches and did the final landing. Deducting the time taken by these exercises, the flying time turns out to be 15 minutes- that is to reach over Trivandrum.

So when the Captain decided to land blindly on a runway he could not see even from a height of 1500m, endangering the lives of all souls on the plane, there were 1379 kgm or 1723 litrs of fuel in the wing tanks. Enough for him to stay up for 28 minutes.
(But had the aircraft been filled up to maximum quantity, that is 20894 kgm, the quantum of the remaining fuel would have been as much as 3711 kgm).

Then why he went for the deadly gamble?

The reason should be one of the three:

  1. The pilot read the remaining fuel quantity erroneously
  2. The pilot did understand the figure correctly, but failed to calculate correctly the reaming time he could be airborne with that much fuel
  3. The fuel quantity indeed was too low. Much lower than the 1723 kgm. May be a couple of hundreds only.

If the reason was 1 or 2, the pilot is guilty of endangering the lives of a plane full of people including himself and the crew.

And if the reason was three, the pilot again is the one responsible- theoretically, at least. It is the duty of the pilot, and pilot alone, to ensure that he had enough fuel in his plane to reach the destination safely.
But it remains just a theory, for most of the private airlines in India, says an Air India commander based at Chennai who flies Gulf routes regularly.

“Being a public sector airlines and because of the presence of an employee’s union, the commanders, who are the real authority when it comes to the safety of the aircraft they fly, still do assert in Air India. But these young boys in the private airlines won’t dare..” says the Captain with over 15 years of flying experience.
And it is not budget airlines alone try to cut cost at all fronts, even if that is by comprising safety.
But even if the fuel planning policy of the airline was a culprit, the Captain of flight 9W555 has still more to answer.

1. The assessment of  the significance of an early warning received

Just five minutes after it left Kochi, the Trivandrum Area Control had passed on a crucial piece of information to Flight 9W555. They said the the visibility at Trivandrum, which was 3000 m when the aircraft started its flight to the airport, had suddenly dropped to 1500 m.   But the Captain was not to turn back.
He expressed his confidence that he can land on ‘converted minima’. (The minimum practical visibility required to land an aircraft even when the stipulated visibility is not available. The visual range is calculated by converting the meteorological visibility).
He could have made the landing as per this calculation but for just one crucial thing he overlooked. That was clouds. If clouds are there at low altitudes, all the calculations would turn upside down.
And that exactly was what happened a few minutes after at Trivandrum.

2. Briefing the ATC of the available fuel.

On way to Trivandrum from Kochi, the pilot had informed the Trivandrum ATC  that he had enough fuel  to fly for one more hour.  It was when the aircraft was around 12 minutes away from Trivandrum that this information about the fuel quantity was given to the ATC as an answer to a routine query.

So as per his own estimation, he had got only 48 minutes of fuel left when reached above Trivandrum airport. One missed approach will cost 7 minutes, approximately. So the time for three approaches is 21 minutes.

But there was a problem. The fuel consumption for B737-800 aircraft at approach levels (around 3000ft) is almost 1.5 times of the consumption in cruising levels. So at the end of three approaches he would only have fuel for for 18 minutes left instead of 27 minutes. Or roughly 1092 kgm or 1365 litters of fuel.
So when he decided at last to land blindly on Runway 32 after saying a “Good Bye” to the ATC, he actually had got fuel for 18 minutes left, if what he said to Trivandrum ATC before indeed was correct.
Why he went for the do-or-die landing where chances of crash were much so high, with 1365 litters of inflammable fuel in his wings? Perplexing, indeed.

3. The selection of the runway

At Trivandrum, the ILS is installed at the North-West or  for runway 32.  The aircraft land to the  south-east end, the runway is denoted by its shortened bearing, 14.
On the fateful morning, the ILS was not operative as said earlier. So we may think it was natural for the pilot to align to land on runway 14.
But it was not so. At Trivandrum, only wide body aircraft choose runway 14 these days because the width to turn from the other end is less when land on 32 end. For a narrow body aircraft like Boring 737-800, it never was a problem. The obvious choice was 32.
The reasons were two:

  1. When landing on runway 32, the available runway length would be more. It was because, the threshold, the first point on runway for the aircraft to touch on landing, is only 135m from the end for 32, But for 14, it is 406 m away from the runway end. When attempting to land on a runway in low visibility and in an urgency, no pilot would opt for a short runway.
  2. When trying to land on a runway with no ILS, the main navigational equipment the pilot got is his eyes. He has to see the runway and surroundings clearly. But when an aircraft approaches to land on runway 14, the morning sunlight would be falling right on the pilot’s face, effectively blinding him.

But even as the perplexed ATC people were watching, he tried not just once, but three times to land from that very side- wasting precious time and fuel.

When trying to land on the same end of the runway after an approach was missed, the aircraft will have to do a ‘go around’ to align again to that end again. That means more flying and alas, more loss of fuel.

And in the end, from where he could make the landing?

On runway 32, of course !

4. The timing of the May Day call

When did the captain actually make the May Day call that simply transformed the very character of the whole incident?
Not before the last attempt, as one would expect.
The call had already been made after the second attempt to land. And at that time, the pilot was having enough fuel to stay in the skies comfortably for 23 more minutes.
After the May Day call he tried another attempt at the same, short, runway 14.  And only after spending fuel for another 7 minutes that he could realize that runway 32 was the better choice.

The Good Bye to the ATC too to be mentioned here. It is highly unusual to end the communication with the ATC with a Good Bye. Usually it is something like “Good Day”. And the situation in which the Good Bye was uttered never lost on the ATC people.

Jet Airways, the airline and its selection of alternate airports

It is only commonsense that, chances are much high for same climatic conditions to prevail at Trivandrum and at Kochi within a span of an hour or less. If the visibility at Kochi is less, that at Trivandrum too would be less, being located only a few hundred kms away on the same western cost of Kerala. So it is sensible to NOT to set Trivandrum as an alternate airport, if the safety of passengers is indeed the main criteria.
That is why for Air India, the alternate airport is either Bangalore or Chennai and for Air Arabia, it is Coimbatore.

But then why it is Trivandrum for Jet Airways?

The answer is obvious. Private airlines are more eager to reduce the flying expenditure by all means and they think they can get away with it. It is only to fulfill a safety requirement that they fix an alternate airport in the first place. And when being compelled to do so, they select the nearest airport. Nearest airport means less flying time and less fuel.

Some other facts

What actually was the available visibility at Trivandrum when 9W555 did the reckless landing?
It was 1500 m.
And what was the actual distance required?
For runway 32, it was 2400m and for runway 14 it was 2100 m.  That was the theory.  But for all practical purposes, a visibility of 1500 m is pretty comfortable to land, says an Air India pilot- that is, if the sky is clear. The problem that morning at Trivandrum was that, in addition to the low visibility, there were clouds hanging around at an elevation 450 m or so. So when coming down to land from 900 m, that indeed would have hidden the runway from the pilot.

The May Day call
Unlike many tend to think, the utterance of a May Day call (it was SOS earlier days- Save Our Souls) by an aircraft on the final approaches at an airport is actually depriving the pilot of all the assistance from the ATC. Once the words are out, the ATC will cease all communications with him and he will be on his own then onward. That is to not to disturb the pilot when he frantically would be trying to manage the landing. He then has full freedom to resort to any action he thinks that would save the flight.  No one will interrupt him. And on Tuesday, the ATC at Trivandrum did exactly follow this dictum. Even when the aircraft’s nose pointed right towards the tower for a while during the final moments before the landing, they never tried to yell at the pilot, even as they really got terrified. With the May Day call, the preparations to handle the emergency did not escalate, though, at the airport during this  period. It was because the airport had declared a full emergency even before the May Day call was made and the SOP for that was already being followed. So there were nothing more to be done on the ground, except staying alert, expecting a crash any moment.

(Jacob K Philip, a Doha based aviation analyst, is the honorary editor of Indian Aviation News Net. He can be reached at

Note by the author on June 27, 2022:

The article was written on the third day of the incident, that is, on 21 August, 2015, based on the limited information available on that date. That is why the article says the flight had made only three failed attempts to land and that all those go-arounds were done at Trivandrum. But the Jet Airways flight that morning had actually done as many as six go-arounds (3 at Trivandrum and 3 at Kochi) and when it landed at last at Trivandrum, it actually was the seventh try.
Still, one can see that the findings of the final version of the investigation report released by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) one year after (on 29 September 2016) do not vary much from the too-early-conclusions arrived at in the article. To cite just one sample, the article says the fuel remained after the landing could have been as less as a couple of 100 kgms. And the AAIB report finds it was 349kgms. And the AAIB report too confirms the crew jeopardized the safety of the passengers and the aircraft.

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Air India Express Flight 4422: No Aviation Rule to Charge Passengers

Court acquits 2009 Indigo Airlines ‘hijack’ case accused of hijack charges; Conviction only for communicating false information that endangered passengers

By Jacob K Philip

Hijack or no hijack, it is next to impossible to prosecute any of the passengers who were aboard the controversial Air India Express Flight 4422,  on October 19, 2012, on the basis of Aviation rules of the land.

The conviction on Thursday of a Chartered Accountant who three years back had caused a hijack scare aboard an Indigo Airlines flight, makes this all the more evident.

On February 1, 2009, Jitender Kumar Mohla (45) announced aboard the Indigo Airlines flight that was flying from Delhi to Goa that he was hijacking the aircraft.

Though he was accused of trying to hijack the aircraft, Mohla is now convicted not under Anti-Hijacking Act, but section 3(1)(d) of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation and 336/506/170 of the IPC. He got acquitted of charges under the Anti-Hijacking Act as “nothing incriminating was found in his possession when he was arrested. And there were no evidence on record to show that the accused entered the cockpit”.

Now let us examine again the ‘hijack’ case of Air India Express Abu Dhabi – Kochi Flight which landed at Thiruvananthapuram on October 19 morning after being diverted from Kochi. The passengers got agitated when the Pilot made the announcements that they had to make their own arrangements to reach Kochi and that she was leaving the aircraft because her flight duty time limit was exceeded. The furor that followed ended in the Pilot sending an emergency transponder signal and telling the Control Tower that the situation was ‘Hijack Like”.

It was already made evident that, because the aircraft was not in flight, the Anti-Hijacking Act, 1982 could not be  invoked.

The only remaining act applicable is “The Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against Safety of Civil Aviation Act, 1982”, just as it was for the Mohla case.

Here is what the act has to say about the possible offenses aboard an aircraft:


3. Offense of committing violence on board an aircraft in flight, etc. —

(1) Whoever unlawfully and intentionally —

 (a) commits an act of violence against a person on board an aircraft in flight which is likely to endanger the safety of such aircraft; or

(b) destroys an aircraft in service or causes damage to such aircraft in such a manner as to render it incapable of flight or which is likely to endanger its safety in flight; or

(c) places or causes to be placed on an aircraft in service, by any means whatsoever, a device or substance which is likely to destroy that aircraft, or to cause damage to it which renders it incapable of flight, or to cause damage to it which is likely to endanger its safety in flight; or

(d) communicates such information which he knows to be false so as to endanger the safety of an aircraft in flight, shall be punished with imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.

 (2) Whoever attempts to commit, or abets the commission of, and offense under subsection (1) shall also be deemed to have committed such offense and shall be punished with the punishment provided for such offense.

Now,  (1) (a) is not applicable because the aircraft was not in flight.

(1) (b) also does not come in to play because no damage was done to the aircraft.

(1) (c) is not relevant as no device that can endanger the aircraft was involved in the incident

(1) (d) also is irrelevant as it deals with an aircraft in flight and no false communication was made by anyone.

The other two offenses listed in the act are the following:

3A. Offense at airport

4. Destruction of, or damage to, air navigation facilities.

3A deals obviously with incidents outside an aircraft and 4 is again not applicable because no navigational facilities were damaged.

That means no aviation safety law is violated by the passengers .

Now it is up to the local Police to invoke or not the sections of Indian Penal Code based on the written complaint of the Pilot-in-Command of the aircraft.


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Why No One Can Charge the 6 Passengers of Air India Express Flight 4422

By Jacob K Philip

It now has become more evident that Capt. Rupali Waghmare, the Pilot-In-Command of Air India Express flight 4422 was gravely at fault when she informed the young Controller at duty at Thiruvananthapuram Air Traffic Control in the morning hours of  Friday the 19th that her aircraft was in a hijack like situation.

The Boeing 737-800 aircraft from Abu Dhabi to Kochi was being diverted to Thiruvananthapuram in the early morning hours because of poor visibility at Kochi. Because the Captain, who had exceeded her flight duty time soon after landing, allegedly told the passengers that they would have to travel to Kochi on their own. The fracas then followed eventually culminated in the Captain telling the ATC over R/T that there was a hijack like situation aboard, though the transponder button She had pressed was  7700 indicator of ‘Emergency’.

The Anti-Hijacking Act, 1982 (65 OF 1982), clearly indicts the Captain who deliberately told the ATC man that  the situation was hijack like.

This is how the Act defines a Hijack(Chapter II -3):

Whoever on board an aircraft in flight, unlawfully, by force or threat of force or by any other form of intimidation, seizes or exercises control of that aircraft, commits the offence of hijacking of such aircraft.

That means, only an aircraft in flight can be hijacked.

And what is a flight?

See the next paragraph of the Act:

“an aircraft shall be deemed to be in flight at any time from the moment when all its external doors are closed following embarkation until the moment when any such door is opened for disembarkation..”

Now see these news reports:

According to airport officials, some of the aircraft’s passengers also alighted the aircraft and stood around it while waiting for the flight to take off.

 A fracas broke out between the passengers and crew members when the commander, a woman pilot, with 22 years of international flying experience, opened the cockpit’s cabin door to disembark from the aircraft.

So the doors of the plane were opened already for disembarkation.

A ceased flight and a nonexistent hijacking.

So there never was a case against the six passengers the Pilot named in her complaint. And there never was any need for the Police to question them.

And the ATC people also can never be blamed.  Because the Commander of the aircraft had uttered the word hijack while talking with them over R/T, they had absolutely no choice but to initiate all the actions assuming that the aircraft had already been hijacked (Directive 36.7.2 Operations Manual of AICL, Issue 1, 24.04.2012) – even if they had seen from the tower that the doors of the craft already were opened and some passengers had disembarked.

If there still is a case, it ought to be charged against only one person- The PIC of Air India Express flight 4422.


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The Hijack That Never Was: Captain Responsible for the Fiasco

‘H word’ Overruled the Code; Controllers Acted by the Manual

 By Jacob K Philip

It is learnt that  the specific usage of the word “Hijack” by Capt. Rupali Waghmare that triggered all the anti-hijack procedures at Thiruvananthapuram Airport on Friday when the  Abu Dhabi-Kochi Air India Express flight 4422 she had been commanding was parked at the airport.

It also has become evident that the transponder code the Captain used was not the one that indicates a hijack.

Trouble started at 7 am on Friday when the flight landed at the capital city airport after being diverted from Kochi because of poor visibility. The Passengers protested on being told they would have to travel by road to Kochi and went in to agitated arguments with the flight crew. Then Capt. Rupali send an hijack alert to air traffic control, it was reported.

Though the transponder code from the aircraft received by the radar at Thiruvananthapuram control tower was 7700, indicator of (technical) emergency, the young controller was being compelled to initiate the anti-hijack procedures because the captain had spoken to him over the Radio Transmitter that there was a HIJACK LIKE SITUATION on board.

Because the word ‘HIJACK’ had been uttered, the controller had absolutely no choice, but to initiate the process of the post-hijack drill that eventually  did cause so much inconvenience to the passengers of the plane who already had been taxed beyond their endurance.

And the well experienced Captain could never have not known the implications of the word.

The rule 36.7.2 of the Operations Manual (Issue 1, 24.04.2012) of Air India Charters Ltd, a copy of which is with Aviation India, tells thus:

Use of phrase “HIJACK” can also be used when possible and the ground stations will take it to mean “I have been hijacked”, and initiate necessary action and give assistance to aircraft.

Operations Manual, Air India Charters Ltd
From the Operations Manual of Air India Charters Ltd, the Company that owns Air India Express

But then why she did not use the 7500 transponder code indicating “Unlawful Interference” or hijacking?

Only two possibilities could have been  there:

  1. It was just a mistake. She pressed  button 5 instead of 7
  2. It was a deliberate attempt to evade responsibility

If number two was the case, we can see that she has  succeeded to an extent. Only yesterday that Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh vouched for her telling the media people that the pilot sounded only an emergency alert (read  7700).

It is also pointed out that to handle a situation like that, there never were the need to talk to the control tower, switching on the R/T. There were  ample facilities for the pilot whose aircraft was parked at the airport, to communicate with the airline’s staff or with the security personnel. But when the Captain preferred  to talk with the ATC instead, the very character of the whole situation altered dramatically.

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Mangalore Crash: Yet Another New Evidence Surfaces

Aviation India Demands Reopening of Air India Express Flight 812 Crash Investigation

By Jacob K Philip
It has now become clear that the Court of Inquiry that investigated the crash of Air India Express Flight 812 on May 22, 2010 had never considered a vital evidence that would have altered the very character and course of the investigation.
The  ‘Flying Programme’ of Air India Express for the period of  17/05/2010 to 23/05/2010, a copy of which is now with Aviation India, throws light to the following facts:

  • Capt. Zlatco Glusica, the Serbian Captain of the crashed aircraft was drawn in last minute to command the flight.
  • The flights to and from Dubai (flight No. 811 & 812) were supposed to be training flights for Capt. Ahluwalia, who was due for a hike to Commander level.

In the programme, that was prepared on 13 May 2010, the name of the First Officer of the flight of course can be read as  A. H. Ahluwalia. But in the column where the name of the commander was to be typed in, what appears is just three letters: TRG.
TRG means training. Should be commander training for Ahluwalia. But why the actual name of the Pilot in Command was not printed? Might be because Air India Express people were undecided about the person, when the schedule was prepared. But when it was actually decided to fill that gap with Capt. Glusica? When did Capt. Glusica, who had returned to India only on May 18 after a vacation in his country, was informed of this decision? Answers to these questions are very crucial because, in their eagerness to put all the blame on Capt. Glusica, the Court of Inquiry had repeatedly stated in the report that the Captain had slept , atleast for 100 minutes, in the return flight, inspite of  getting adequate rest prior to the flight. And according to the CoI, the inertia caused by that sleep was the main cause of the accident.

From the Report:

The contributory factors (of the crash) were:
(a) In spite of availability of adequate rest period prior to the flight,the Captain was in prolonged sleep during flight, which could have ledto sleep inertia. As a result of relatively short period of time between hisawakening and the approach, it possibly led to impaired judgment. Thisaspect might have got accentuated while flying in the Window ofCircadian Low (WOCL).
(b) In the absence of Mangalore Area Control Radar (MSSR), due toun-serviceability, the aircraft was given descent at a shorter distance onDME as compared to the normal. However, the flight crew did not planthe descent profile properly, resulting in remaining high on approach.
(c) Probably in view of ambiguity in various instructions empoweringthe ‘co-pilot’ to initiate a ‘go around’, the First Officer gave repeatedcalls to this effect, but did not take over the controls to actuallydiscontinue the ill-fated approach.

What if Capt.Glusica was informed of the flight only some hours before?
What if he had not slept for the previous day being not aware of the sudden change in schedule?What if the Captain was not physically well after the long journey back India?
The scope of investigation of the CoI had never entered these zones exactly because this particular schedule mysteriously had escaped their notice.
The significance of the three letters, ‘TRG’ is in addition to this.
If it indeed was a flight in which the eligibility of Capt. Ahluwalia to get promoted to the post of Commander was to be checked, many of an observations and accusations  the Court of Inquiry had put forward regarding the unhealthy ‘steep gradient of authority’ in flight 812’s cockpit suddenly becoming null and void.
A TRG flight justifies Capt. Glusica’s decision to pay not much heed to the first officers suggestions.
A TRG flight makes it clear why  Ahluwalia never took over controls.
A TRG flight again makes it obvious why the Commander allowed the First Officer to do almost all the R/T communications.
The flying Programme of Air India Express for the period of 17/05/2010 to  23/05/2010 clearly is a new and material evidence on the basis of which a reopening of the investigation of the crash of Flight 812 can be ordered.

Jacob K Philip is Editor of Aviation India. He can be reached at

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Reopen Mangalore Crash Investigation

By Jacob K Philip
Editor, Aviation India

The investigation of the 2011 May 22 crash of Air India Express Flight 812 must be reopened.

The Indian Government should discard the the biased, incomplete and erroneous whitewash of a report submitted on April 26, 2011 by the Court of Inquiry and should immediately order a reinvestigation.

The demand for the urgent reopening of the inquiry of the tragic crash in which as many as 158 lives had perished is perfectly in accordance to the rule of the land.

On 2009 March 13, the Government of India had inserted vide GSR No. 168(E)  a very important rule to ‘The Aircraft Rules 1937’, which govern everything aviation in this country.
Here is the rule:

75A. Reopening of InvestigationWhere it appears to the Central Government that any new and material evidence has become available after completion of the investigation under rule 71, 74 or 75, as the case may be, it may, by order, direct the reopening of the same.

The series of six articles published in Aviation India and Decision Height from  May 15  to June 2011 make it abundantly clear that there are enough new and material evidence that make the reopening of the investigation absolutely necessary.

Here is a list of those new and material evidence:

  1. The fact that a huge portion of the wreckage was taken away from the crash site by locals and was sold as scrap metal. What the Court of Inquiry was inspected and studied (if at all they had done any study) was the remaing wreckage. ( Read the article..)
  2. The reconstruction of the wreckage was never actually done by the CoI. The image of the reconstructed wreckage included in the report was a computer generated one. (Read The Article..)
  3. While testifying before the court of Inquiry at Mangalore airport, Six survivors of the crash were made to answer a totaly biased and misleading question by the CoI. The question was, “Do you think the accident occurred because of the fault of the pilot?”This was in plain violation of Rule 7.2.1 of the Manual of Accident/ incident investigation: ‘ The investigation of aircraft accidents and incidents has to be strictly objective and totally impartial and must also be perceived to be so’. (Read The Article..)
  4. The “ Hard Landing” circular issued by Air India is a major contributor to the accident. The CoI had chosen to ignore this vital fact. (Read The Article..)

All the above four new & material evidence had already been elaboarted in the articles published by us.
But there still are more new evidence & facts the CoI never bothered to find out.
We are publishng that new evidence tomorrow.

(Jacob K Philip can be reached at

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Mangalore Crash Inquiry Report: A Desperate Attempt to Save the Skin of AAI Also

Airports Authority of India is guilty of both erecting a concrete structure at runway end and providing not enough rest for the ATCs
(Mangalore Crash Report – Hidden Factors: 2)

By Capt. A. Ranganathan
When Air India Express Flight 812 crashed in the early morning of May 22, 2010, 158 lives were consumed by fire caused when the wing of the aircraft broke after it struck the concrete structure on which the ILS Antenna was mounted.

Thanks to the ‘smoke screen’ on Page 36 of the CoI report, the fact that the structure was erected there violating all the safety norms is very well camouflaged.

ICAO Annex 14, governs the Standards for Aerodromes. In Chapter 3, under section 3.5 comes Runway End Safety Area ( RESA). The Annex specifies that “ Runway End Safety Area SHALL be provided at each end of the runway strip.

The Dimensions of the Runway end Safety Area

3.5.2   A Runway End Safety Area shall extend from the end of a runway strip to a distance of at least 90m.

3.5.3  Recommendation – A runway end safety area should, as far as practicable, extend from the end of a runway strip to a distance of at least  –  240m where the Code number is 3 or 4

Objects on runway end safety areas

3.5.6 An object on runway end safety area which may endanger aeroplanes should be regarded as an obstacle and should, as far as practicable, be removed.

ICAO has recommended the higher figure of 240m taking into account that most runway overruns take place within 300m beyond the end of the runway. The term “ as far as practicable” would apply for an obstacle which exists naturally and not a man made structure. Considering that Mangalore runway is on a table-top terrain and with the area beyond the strip difficult for rescue operation, the RESA should have been 240m long. When the fatal accident took place, the arrow of guilt pointed to this structure. An effort has been made to portray that there did exist an area 240m beyond the end of the runway. The different statements on Page 36/175 shows their confused mind:

At the time of accident , there was a Basic strip of 60m followed by RESA of 180m ( now reduced to 175m).  After the end of the 237m within RESA, a concrete structure had been constructed on which ILS Localiser antenna is mounted.

Now see the extract of Page 36 of CoI report:

This is another clumsy attempt to cover-up a dangerous safety infringement. The figures of 180m or 175m do not appear anywhere in the ICAO Annex 14 under the heading Runway end safety area. Someone has attempted to indicate the figure of 240m ( 60 = 180 ) was provided but realised that the concrete structure was at 237m. Hence, the figure was reduced to 235m ( 60 + 175 ). A further precaution to protect a wrong structure is the falling back on the figure of 90m x 90m, which is the mandatory figure as per Annex 14 while 240 is a recommendation.

The report goes on to state : After the accident, the ILS was recalibrated on 16th June 2010. The damaged structure was rebuilt with another rigid structure within three weeks of the fatal accident !

Did they realize that the danger for all operations continue from that date? Was the DGCA right in renewing the license for the airport with this dangerous structure?

There is a DGCA C.A.R for Aerodrommes from which the following are extracts:


16th October, 2006 EFFECTIVE: FORTHWITH


4.6 The applicant for the aerodrome to be licenced for Public Use shall

demonstrate the functional arrangements and their integration for provision of CNS-ATM, RFF, AIS, meteorological and security services.

4.7 Final inspection shall be undertaken for on site verification of data,

checking of the aerodrome facilities, services, equipment and procedures to verify and ensure that they comply with the requirements.

4.8 The aerodrome licence shall be issued by the Aerodrome Standard Dte. after approval of DG under the appropriate category, if the DGCA is satisfied that applicant has complied with all relevant requirements. In case of the non-compliance of the requirement by the applicant, licence may either be refused or granted with limitations/ restrictions / conditions as deemed appropriate by the DGCA, provided that in such cases the overall safety is not compromised.


Enclose obstacle limitation charts including type ‘A’ chart for the aerodrome including the details of obstructions, which are marked and lighted.

13.1 Objects in operational areas and their frangible type

a) Runway Strip

b) Stopway

c) Clearway





The license given to Mangalore is suspect and officials who conducted the safety audit have made a sham of the inspection. The concrete structure was definitely a hazard to flying and it is surprising if item 13.2 of the Application form was filled up otherwise.

Licensing done by DGCA in 2007 and Surveillance inspection done two days before the accident. It is pure divine grace which has prevented more fatal accidents in Mangalore.

Extract of Page 39 of CoI report:

The highlighted portions of the extract clearly spells out the danger to all aircrafts operating in and out of Mangalore. The dangerous structure on which the ILS antenna is mounted is present. The Rescue and Fire fighting is not possible outside the airport perimeter. Yet, officials of DGCA and AAI have certified that the airport with the present facilities is safe!

The other important factor is the fatigue factor of the Air Traffic controllers. Their shifts are designed to keep them on a continuous 12 hour duty period during the night. They are also exposed to the Window of Circadian low which would result is erroneous or delayed response. On the day of the crash, the ATCO has stated that the end of the runway was not visible and he has given instructions to the aircraft to back track as was the “ normal” practice ! The ATCO was not even aware that the aircraft had crashed !

The entire report on the crash appears to put the blame on the Captain alone. All the other agencies involved in contributing to the death of 158 persons has been blanked out in the smoke-screen. The danger persists and lessons have not been learnt.

(Captain A. Ranganathan is a member of India’s Safety Advisory Committee of the Aviation. The aviation safety expert and veteran pilot has more than 20,000 hours of flying experience to his credit.

Capt. Ranganathan can be reached at

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Mangalore Crash report- The hidden factors

The “ Hard Landing” circular issued by Air India is a major contributor to the accident and the COI report has chosen to ignore this vital fact.

By Capt. A. Ranganathan

The Court of Inquiry report on the crash of Air India Express flight 812 on 22nd May 2010 has concluded that only the pilot was responsible. On page 115/175 of the report, the direct causes are given as follows:

“The court of Inquiry determines that the cause of the accident was Captain’s failure to discontinue an “Unstabilised approach” and his persistence to continue with the landing, despite three calls from the First Officer to “go-around” and a number of warnings from the EGPWS”

The report is completely silent on the contributory factors when it comes to the failure of the Airline, the Airport Authority of India and the Regulator. The cover up of a circular on hard landing, issued by the Flight Safety Head of Air India, has been swept aside. On page 90/175 of the report, the following statement clearly indicates the cover-up.

2.2.18   Aspects of Hard Landing and Going Around

Flight Safety counseling on one-off incident of Hard Landing by Captain for 1.9 Vg which was much less than AMM limit of 2.1 Vg cannot be considered as a contributing factor towards the accident. Having been consistently unstabilised on the ILS Approach, even if the Captain had been able to stop the aircraft on the runway, the subsequent FOQA analysis of DFDR and possibily of CVR, would have indicated various violations of SOP by the Captain. This would have, in any case, warranted another reprimand by the authorities. In a high energy and fast approach, resulting in a very late touchdown, no prudent pilot would also aim to make a smooth touchdown to avoid flight safety counseling. The aircraft in this instant had not been able to remain firmly on ground because of higher speed at touchdown and not possibly because of any attempted smooth landing.

The last statement clearly indicates the effort to cover up the fact that the circular is one of the major factors that contributed to the accident. The Captain was definitely at fault in continuing the approach to land , in spite of being extremely high on profile as well as speed. However, the aircraft could have been stopped within the paved surface of the runway, if correct stopping techniques were employed. This was clearly stated by the report of the manufacturer, Boeing, on Page 159/175:

“ since the airplane’s final touchdown point was 5200 feet from Runway 24 threshold, the airplane could have come to a complete stop at 7600 feet from the threshold ( 438 feet of runway remaining )

The following image from the report is a clear indication that the COI has deliberately ignored an important factor:

The kink marked by the bottom arrow clearly indicates that the engine thrust was increased to cushion the landing. The normal landing should have been done with idle thrust but the Flight data recorded clearly indicates that there was more than idle thrust at touchdown. The top arrow indicates the vertical profile of the aircraft.

The Boeing report has also indicated that the aircraft had descent rate of more than 1000 feet per minute up to 60 feet above runway and then it has flattened out to a normal rate. The CVR ( Cockpit Voice Recorder ) readout is another clear indicator for this:

EGPWS    Sink Rate Sink Rate
EGPWS    Forty
EGPWS    Thirty
EGPWS    Twenty
EGPWS    Ten
CAM         [ Sound of 3 clicks  and a squeal.-
( speed Brake handle? / MG TD?)

The COI has taken the sounds at 06;04;40 at the Main Gear touchdown, yet in several portions of the report , they indicate the touchdown as 06:04:41. Apart from this error, their contention that the circular on hard landing issued by air India has no bearing on the accident is faulty.

In Page 140/175, the COI report mentions the following

Timings and Correlation

Timing on the transcript was established by correlating CVR, DFDR and ATC recording. The time indicated in CVR transcript is in Indian Standard Time ( IST ) which is UTC + 5:30 hours

Taking the figures indicated in the COI report from the DFDR readouts, the above image is a graphical representation of what was the final profile of the aircraft. The flight was well above the ILS Glide path that it should have taken. The descent rate up to one mile from the runway threshold is more than 4000 feet per minute and the captain reduces the descent rate to more than 1000 feet per minute up to 60 feet above the runway surface. The COI report mentions that the captain violated the Standard Operating Procedure which requires a descent rate not exceeding 1000 feet per minute. However, they chose to ignore the CVR and DFDR indication which clearly points to the fact that the captain ignores all EGPWS warnings and the copilots call for Go-around, yet continues to land late by flattening out the approach. This is a classic case of what is called “Press-on-It is” in aviation safety parlance.

The COI report also ignores the fact mentioned in Page 79/175:

“As per recordings on the DFDR at 06:04:42 hours IST just before touchdown, Thrust levers were at 26 degrees and corresponding N2 at Left Engine was 76.8% and N2 on Right Engine was 78.1%.”

Apart from indicating that the COI report has not correlated the timings of CVR and DFDR ( the touch down is shown as 06:04:40 in the CVR while DFDR shows touchdown as 06:04:41 and on page 79 they indicate “just before touchdown as 06:04:42), the thrust lever indication of 26 degrees should have indicated to them that it was above “Idle” thrust which is the standard procedure for touchdown. The fact that the captain was using power for the touchdown indicated he is going for a smooth touchdown in spite of the fact that he was touching down very late. The following graphic is a representation of the last forty feet of the aircraft profile ( based on CVR recordings):

The action of the captain in arresting the high descent rate and making a smooth touchdown with power , is a clear indication that the counseling he had for the earlier hard landing was the influential factor. The “ Hard Landing” circular issued by Air India is a major contributor to the accident and the COI report has chosen to ignore this vital fact.

(Captain A. Ranganathan is a member of India’s Safety Advisory Committee of the Aviation. The aviation safety expert and veteran pilot has more than 20,000 hours of flying experience to his credit.

Capt. Ranganathan can be reached at

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Faridabad Air Ambulance Crash: DGCA, the real culprit

By Jacob K Philip

VT-ACF, The Pilates PC-12 aircraft that crashed on 25 May. This picture was taken in early January this year when the aircraft was with its previous owner Range Flyers Inc, US.

Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), India’s aviation regulatory body alone is responsible for the Wednesday night’s small aircraft crash at Faridabad near Delhi that Killed all 7 people on board and 3 on ground.

It was by violating its own regulations that DGCA had granted permission to the single engine Pilatus PC-12/45 to fly as air ambulance in India.

The CAR or Civil Aviation Requirement notification released by DGCA on 1st June, 2010 (SECTION 3, AIR TRANSPORT

SERIES ‘C’, PART III, ISSUE II) prohibits all single engine aircraft ferrying patients.

Captain Mohan Ranganathan , aviation safety expert and veteran pilot who also is a member of Safety Advisory Committee of the Aviation Ministry points out:

” The CAR (Civil Aviation Requirement) is very clear that a Single-engine aircraft cannot be used for ambulance flgihts. The CAR is also very clear that the flight cannot be undertaken at night and in Bad weather conditions..”

Paragraphs 2.2 & 2.3 of the CAR:

Single engine, turbine powered aeroplanes may be operated day/night, VFR/IFR weather conditions as per their certification and operating procedures stipulated in flight manual. Single engine piston airplanes shall not be operated at night or in Instrument Meteorological conditions. However, they may be operated under special VFR subject to the limitations contained in the type certificate.

Operations with single engine aeroplanes shall be conducted only on domestic sectors except for medical evacuation flights and shall be operated along such routes or within such areas for which surfaces are available which permit a safe forced landing to be executed.

” When the flight left Patna, there was a Squall warning for Delhi. The flight should not have been cleared as it was already night and the weather forecast was bad.Whoever gave the permission for the flight from DGCA should be held accountable for all the fatalities..” say Capt. Ranganathan who has more than 20,000 hours of flying experience to his credit.

The Union government has already announced it will appoint a committee of inquiry to probe the crash of the air ambulance in a residential area in neighbouring Faridabad.

But it is really doubtful if the probe would reach anywhere.

Because in this accident the law maker, who also happens to be the agency that implements the law, itself is the real culprit.

And it has already become clear, to where the investigation is heading:

See this news report:

Preliminary probe by aviation regulator DGCA into the Faridabad air crash that claimed ten lives today pointed towards technical malfunction and high velocity winds as possible major reasons for the mishap.

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