The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gasp for air on fault-a-day flight

Calcutta, June 26: Thrice bitten but not shy at all.

A snag-stalked Alliance Air plane lived up to its reputation today by leaving passengers gasping for breath after its air-conditioning system collapsed minutes before take-off from Calcutta.

At least two passengers on the Calcutta-Agartala flight fell ill because of lack of oxygen and had to be treated at a nursing home.

This was the third time in the past five days that the same ATR (short-haul) aircraft of Alliance Air — a subsidiary of Indian — had developed technical problems and had to return after or before taking off.

On Tuesday, the flight was scheduled to take off at 2.55 pm but was delayed by more than two hours. Carrying 44 passengers, the flight started taxiing at 5.20 pm.

However, as it reached the runway, the air-conditioning system sputtered, pushing up the cabin temperature.

Alerted by the crew that the cabin was getting warm and passengers were beginning to suffocate, the pilot informed air traffic control that he was returning to the parking bay.

Wheeling back the aircraft at 5.35 pm, the pilot cut the engine and opened the doors to bring down the temperature. But by then two passengers, Piyashi Debnath and N. Nirmalyan, both residents of Tripura, had fallen ill.

They slumped into semi-consciousness and had to be taken back to the terminal in an ambulance. After being treated by doctors at the airport, the two were shifted to a private nursing home nearby.

“Both passengers recovered and desired to continue to Agartala today itself. But as a measure of precaution, they were kept at a nursing home for overnight observation,” an Indian spokesperson said.

Seven passengers, including relatives of the two, stayed back while the others proceeded on another aircraft.

Airport sources said the same aircraft — registration number VTABD — was hit by technical defects last Friday and Sunday.

It had undergone repairs and was returning from Imphal to Calcutta without any passengers when the landing gear caused trouble. “The aircraft could not move after making an emergency landing on the runway and had to be taken out with the help of a tow bar,” an airport official said.

On Sunday, while flying on the Guwahati-Agartala sector, the landing problem recurred, forcing it to land at Calcutta.

Indian officials denied that the aircraft had technical snags on three occasions. But an official confirmed that “it was the same flight which had problems on the Guwahati-Agartala sector”. Other sources said the same plane had developed a snag on Friday.

Indian had leased six ATR aircraft in 2002 for operations in eastern and northeastern regions. According to officials, these aircraft are eight to 10 years old.

Earlier in the morning, an Indian flight returned to Calcutta after its weather radar malfunctioned.

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