The pilot of an aircraft waiting for take-off helped avert a potential disaster after the left rear wheel of an Air India Dreamliner aircraft with 251 people on board caught fire seconds after landing at Calcutta airport on Tuesday afternoon.
The Delhi-Calcutta flight was taxiing on the main runway at 4.40pm when the pilot of a Chennai-bound SpiceJet aircraft awaiting take-off clearance spotted sparks and alerted air traffic control.
Ground staff quickly doused the fire with carbon dioxide fire extinguishers as soon as the Dreamliner reached the parking bay, an airport official said.
Passengers said the crew did not inform them about the fire, although they could see fire tenders and ambulances rushing towards their aircraft.
“We saw fire tenders and ambulances from the windows. Several people were inspecting the rear of the aircraft , but the crew never told us what happened,” said Amit Vasudeva, a US-based businessman in seat number 11A.
Vasudeva, who is in Calcutta for Christmas, said he became sure about the fire after hearing the cabin crew talk about it.
Abhijit Bhattacharyya, travelling business class, said he wouldn’t have known there was a fire had he not noticed the commotion outside. “The landing was smooth. It was the sight of fire tenders and ambulances that alarmed us.”
The only official indication of something being amiss was the announcement for passengers to remain seated longer than usual. They were allowed to disembark through an aerobridge around 15 minutes after landing.
Airport officials said the fire was extinguished before the fire tenders swung into action.
“The plane landed at the southern end of the main runway at 4.40pm and the fire was detected at 4.42pm. It was extinguished at 4.45pm,” an official said.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has instituted an inquiry into the incident.
An Air India spokesperson said only sparks were noticed in one of the wheels after landing. “The aircraft has been grounded for safety reasons and we are looking into the exact cause of the incident,” the spokesperson added.
Sources said the fire might have been triggered by the wheel overheating because of friction.
Dreamliner, Boeing’s latest commercial aircraft, has been plagued by problems since its launch. The aircraft had been grounded globally last January after reports of batteries overheating. Air India resumed Dreamliner operations in May.
The aircraft whose wheel caught fire was scheduled to return to Delhi with 170 passengers from Calcutta at 5.30pm on Tuesday. The booked passengers waited nearly six hours before being put on another Air India flight to Delhi at 9.15pm.