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Flight 148 does U-turn on alarm, infants go hungry

- Smoke in cargo section forces GoAir’s Delhi plane to change course, 177 stranded at Birsa airport for hours

Jaikishan Gupta, a transporter from Mumbai, boarded his flight on time after attending a wedding in Ranchi on Sunday evening. He reached home 12 hours late

Eye specialist from AIIMS, Delhi, Rajesh Sinha, who was in the capital for a conference organised by Jharkhand Ophthalmological Society, reached his destination at 3am on Monday instead of 10pm the night before

Gupta and Sinha were not alone in the ordeal. A total of 177 GoAir passengers were stranded for hours at Birsa Munda Airport without enough food and water as the private airline’s flight G8 148 developed a snag midway between Ranchi and Delhi, forcing a hurried return.

Speaking to The Telegraph over phone from Mumbai, Gupta said they came to know of the problem around 8.40pm, some 35 minutes after the flight took off from the Jharkhand capital and was flying over Varanasi. “It was announced that smoke has been detected in the cargo section and we were returning to Ranchi. We touched down around 9.16pm and were asked to get off the plane around 10.45pm. We were told to wait at the airport till further announcement,” Gupta said.

He pointed out the harrowing — and hungry — wait ended at 1.30am. “The flight left Ranchi and reached Delhi at 3am. All this time, GoAir did not provide any refreshment to passengers, let alone dinner. We were famished. Infants went hungry too with bulk of baby food packed in check-in luggage,” the Mumbai businessman said.

Gupta took a flight for Mumbai from Delhi around 8am and, finally, reached home at 12.30pm on Monday instead of 12.30am. “All I could do was heave a long sigh of relief. I flew and yet I was so tired. The 12 hours had sapped all my energy,” he added.

The nightmare is, however, yet to end. Since smoke was detected in the cargo area, GoAir is detaining luggage of all passengers. “We have been told that our bags will be scanned and returned soon,” Gupta said, pointing out that no one had the strength to protest after the draining journey.

Bharti Kashyap, a city-based ophthalmologist who went to see Sinha off at Birsa Munda Airport, said she remained worried all night. “He was my guest. When he informed me that his flight had returned, I became anxious. I am glad he has reached Delhi safely,” she said.

A ground official of GoAir D. Sharma admitted the snag and said the pilots and the six crew members thought it safe to return. “One should appreciate their presence of mind (instead of complaining).”

On why no refreshment was offered to the stranded passengers, Sharma said: “It was not possible at that hour. The airport canteen had closed. Besides, the snag was rectified within two hours and out of the 177 passengers, 150 were made to board the flight soon thereafter. The others left this morning.”

S.K. Sharan, senior manager (commercial) at Birsa Munda Airport, shrugged responsibility too. “When a flight gets cancelled or delayed, the Airports Authority of India is not supposed to take care of passengers,” he said, adding that in case of low-cost airlines like GoAir, food is provided only if there is prior arrangement with passengers.

Sharma said this was the first time they had faced the predicament since the service was launched on October 8. “I hope this is the last time.”