Bangalore, April 12: The low-flying chopper weaved between multi-storey buildings, wobbled and dropped onto a rooftop, skidded and hit the parapet — its rotors blown off on impact — and teetered dangerously on the edge before coming to rest.
A Hollywood action star in an urban-combat scene could scarcely have done better than an Indian flying instructor and his student did today, landing their snagged helicopter atop a five-storey apartment building here in a densely populated residential area.
The web of happy circumstances that ended with none being hurt was straight out of filmdom, too.
Children were playing just below. High-tension wires stretched everywhere around as the out-of-control aircraft lost altitude and searched in vain for a patch of open land in Mallesh Pallya, approximately 13km from the city centre.
Retired Air Commodore Roj Assey and trainee Digvijay Singh eventually decided on Maitri Apartments because it was one of the tallest buildings in the neighbourhood.
The single-engine US-made Schweizer-300C, belonging to the HAL Rotary Wing Academy, ideally needs a landing area the size of two badminton courts. The terrace was just about that size — except that the staircase room jutted out right in the middle.
Fortunately, the part of the terrace where the helicopter landed was free of dish antennae, clothes lines or other potential impediments.
As the pilot somehow manoeuvred the chopper into the tight space on one side of the terrace, it careened but was prevented by the parapet from falling on the children and people below.
The crash with the parapet not only smashed the main and tail rotors, it caused the fuel and engine oil to leak. But by another stroke of luck, the crash-bang landing stayed free of any sparks or flames, though some onlookers claimed to have seen smoke.
A few minutes later, two dazed-looking pilots walked down the stairs through a thin gathering of equally shell-shocked residents and took the lift from the fifth floor.
Rathna B had been taking her regular siesta in her third-floor flat. “I ran out of the building and saw what I thought was smoke on top of our building.” It took her and others a few minutes to realise they had a chopper on the roof.
Some of the children playing outside said they heard the aircraft land. “All of us thought it was an aeroplane since we couldn’t see anything from here. I didn’t dare climb up... but I saw something leaking down the roof,” said Class IX student Reesha Madhavan.
It could be days before the cause of the snag can be pinned down. The first task before the HAL authorities is to bring the chopper down. Although using a crane would be an option, sources said dismantling would be safest since the chopper is perched on a residential building. A directorate-general of civil aviation team is expected to arrive tomorrow morning.
HAL executive director T. Sudhakar Rao said the chopper had taken off at 2.30pm from the nearby HAL airport — the old city airport now used solely for training and VIP flights. It flew for two hours and 10 minutes before making the emergency landing.
“The air commodore controlled the helicopter to make an emergency landing on top of the building as there was no open place available in the vicinity,” he said.