| FALSE ALARM: The Qantas aircraft at Calcutta airport on Tuesday afternoon. Picture by Soumen Bhattacharjee
Over 389 passengers and crew on board a London-Singapore Qantas Airlines flight had quite a scare on Tuesday afternoon when the pilot made an emergency landing at Calcutta airport. The panic was sparked by a fire alert from one of the engines.
The Australian aircraft landed at about 12.52 pm, but investigations revealed that a technical fault in the control panel had caused the fire indicator to malfunction.
The glitch was rectified and the flight took off for Singapore again around 5.15 pm, without further ado.
The Qantas flight had taken off from London around 4 am (IST). Just before noon, the Boeing 747-400 series aircraft was well on course towards its Southeast Asian destination, maintaining a flight level of approximately 35,000 ft. It was gaining height gradually about 40 km north-east of Visakhapatnam.
'Due to a naval exercise in the high seas, the pilot of the Qantas flight was instructed to fly north of Visakhapatnam and not take the usual Nagpur-Vizag route when the area control on the Calcutta Flight Information Region (CFIR) received the SOS,' said a senior air-safety official.
Around 12.05 pm, the pilot in-charge of the Qantas 10 flight, cruising at 700 kph about 375 km south-west of Calcutta, suddenly saw the red light flashing on the cockpit panel, indicating a possible fire in one of the engines.
It was 12.10 pm when the pilot on board the Qantas 10 flight sent an SOS to the area control in Calcutta airport: 'Mayday, Mayday, we have a problem on board'. It seems to be a engine problem and we request emergency landing.'
The telephonic message from the pilot came in loud and clear over the VHF (very high-frequency) trans-receiver, sending the Calcutta area control authorities into a tizzy.
The radars were on NOTAM (notice to all airlines) for scheduled maintenance, but the area controllers on duty got them functional. They also alerted the fire brigade and ground staff.
'From the messages sent to us, we could make out that the aircraft's right engine had possibly caught fire. We immediately declared an emergency,' said V.K. Monga, director of the airport.
The passengers were told nothing about the suspected danger, as the pilot veered towards Calcutta. The white-and-orange craft was spotted some 40 minutes later by ATC personnel. Runaway 01 right was all ready with fire tenders and ambulances.
'Once the aircraft landed, we did not spot any smoke and the pilot seemed to be in total control,' added a senior ATC official.
Engineers of British Airways, the handling agent of Qantas in Calcutta, carried out the inspection and rectified the technical problem.