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US plane forced to land in Mumbai

Feb. 3: A US commercial cargo plane with its 11-member crew was forced to land in Mumbai this evening by the Indian Air Force after it deviated from its assigned flight path.

IAF sources in Delhi could not immediately confirm if air force planes had scrambled and made sorties to force down the intruder — a Boeing 757 belonging to a US corporation.

The Air Traffic Control at Sahar Airport in Mumbai ordered the plane, which was on its way to Male from Karachi, to land after checking with air force units in the region.

Civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain confirmed in Delhi that the US plane had been forced to land.

The crew has not been arrested but air force sources in Delhi said they have been “detained for questioning”.

“Before eight this evening, air force surveillance units and civil aviation authorities detected that the Boeing had deviated from its assigned flight path. As per laid-down procedures, the aircraft was asked to land in Mumbai, which it did. At the moment, we can only confirm that the air force was involved,” the sources added.

This is the second such intrusion in three days. On Friday, an unidentified aircraft, said to be a US Air Force plane, had breached Indian airspace about 170 nautical miles east of Chennai.

According to procedures, if a plane violates its flight path, it is first asked by the air traffic controller to identify itself and explain why it has deviated. If the explanation is not satisfactory, it is asked to land.

Normally this is accompanied by a warning from the aviation authorities that stern action will be taken if the order is not obeyed.

Subsequently, military aircraft might fly out and escort the violating plane to the designated landing strip. However, air force sources in Delhi did not confirm whether IAF aircraft threatened action if the Boeing did not land in Mumbai.

An investigation has been ordered.

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