AI plane flies for 4 hrs with gash in fuselage

Continues to fly despite damage; all 130 flyers on board safe

Putting passengers’ lives at risk, an Air India Express plane from Tiruchirappalli to Dubai is suspected to have flown with a damaged fuselage for nearly four hours before landing in Mumbai as a “precautionary measure”.

The fuselage appeared to have suffered damage after the Boeing 737-800 aircraft hit the boundary wall of the Tiruchirappalli International Airport, 335 km from here, during take-off at 1.30 am on Friday. All 130 passengers and six crew members, who were airborne for four hours, escaped miraculously as the aircraft landed “safely” at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai at 5.35 am.

Fuselage is the aircraft’s main body section which holds the crew, passengers, and cargo.

“After flight IX 611 took off from Trichy at about 1.30 am today, local airport officials reported they have observed that the aircraft might have come in contact with the airport perimeter wall. The matter was conveyed to the pilot in command, who reported that the aircraft systems were operating normally,” the Air India said in a statement.

However, it was decided to divert the aircraft to Mumbai as a precautionary measure and it landed safely around 5.35 am and taxied on its own power to the parking stand, the statement said.

Though the Air India did not speak in detail about the damages to the aircraft, www.flightradar24.com, which tracks air traffic in real time, said the aircraft appears to have suffered several punctures to the fuselage, after analysing the pictures that made their way into the social media.

“Based on photos from the airport, Air India Express flight #IX611 appears to have struck the ILS & a wall at the departure end of RWY 27 in Trichy.
The aircraft climbed to cruising altitude for 3 hours before safety diverting to Mumbai,” the website said.

It said the aircraft took 31 minutes to climb and was cruising at an altitude of 36,000 feet before descending to its diversion airport in Mumbai. The website also said the flight bound for Dubai was not yet airborne at the end of the runway when the incident took place.

The Boeing 737-800, registered VT-AYD, was delivered to the airline in December 2009 and the latest flight was steered by Capt D Ganesh Babu and Capt Anurag, the first officer.

“Both the pilots have been derostered pending investigation, the statement said, adding that the passengers continued their journey with a relief aircraft from Mumbai to Dubai with a fresh set of crew.” The DGCA has launched an investigation into the incident.

Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu said he has asked the ministry to conduct a high-level enquiry into the incident. He said DGCA officers are at the site for preliminary inquiry and Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau officers have also been deputed.

CISF alerted airport

The CISF personnel who guard the Tiruchirapalli Airport was the first to notice the Dubai-bound flight hitting the boundary wall, who then alerted the officials. The airport officials informed the air traffic controller (ATC), which in turn communicated with the pilots of the Air India Express plane.

"Since pilots reported that all operations were normal, we allowed them (to proceed). In the incident, an Instrument Landing System (ILS), besides the VHF antenna on the aircraft was damaged,” Tiruchirapalli International Airport director K Gunasekaran said.

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AI plane flies for 4 hrs with gash in fuselage

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