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Fog grounds Bagdogra flights

A dozen Bagdogra-bound flights, among them five from Calcutta, were cancelled on Tuesday because of foggy conditions at the north Bengal destination.

Hundreds of passengers from Calcutta were stranded as a Jet Airways flight returned to the city after failing to land at Bagdogra while a GoAir flight was diverted to Guwahati, airport sources said. IndiGo, Air India and SpiceJet flights were also cancelled.

Visibility at fog-covered Bagdogra was much below 1,200 metre, the standard for an aircraft to land at the small airport that connects tourist hubs of north Bengal and Sikkim with the rest of the world.

The airport does not have instrument landing system (ILS) that guides aircraft in low-visibility situations.

“Poor visibility, below 1,200 metre, forced cancellation of 12 flights on Tuesday. About 1,150 passengers were booked for these flights,” said K.K. Bhowmik, the director of Bagdogra airport.

A Druk Air flight on the way to Bangkok from Paro landed at 2.20pm, when the weather let up briefly. Airport officials said it took off for the Thai capital at 3.44pm.

Sources said the foggiest conditions prevailed around 1pm and a snag in one of the surveillance radar put paid to all efforts made by airport officials to restore flight operations.

Around that time, a Jet Airways flight with 125 passengers took off from Calcutta but had to return at 3.05pm. “The plane hovered for 30 minutes before the pilot announced that the flight couldn’t land because there was a problem with the radar,” said Taib Shalom of Mumbai en route to Bagdogra.

Airline sources said passengers were refunded while those who wanted to take the flight on Wednesday were rebooked.

“We were informed that planes can’t land at Bagdogra because of poor visibility… so the flight from Calcutta was cancelled,” said a spokesperson of Air India.

Many passengers waiting to fly out of Bagdogra had a harrowing time. Among them was P. Wangdi of Darjeeling who was to catch a flight to Calcutta on the way to Chennai for his wife’s treatment.

“Our connecting flight from Calcutta was scheduled to leave by 5.55pm. I have an appointment with the doctor at 10am on Wednesday. Since I have missed the flight, the appointment has gone for a toss and I don’t know when I can fix another one with the doctor,” Wangdi said.

Torgunrud, a Norwegian, was stranded at the airport with six others from his family who had reached Bagdogra from Darjeeling in the afternoon to catch a flight to Delhi.

“We have no information about where to stay now that our flight has been cancelled. I think we will have to fend for ourselves and find accommodation… and hope that the weather clears in the morning,” he said.

The Met forecast does not hold out much hope. It says foggy conditions are likely to continue through Wednesday.

“Moderate to dense fog, reducing surface visibility to less than 200 metres, may occur at a few places in sub-Himalayan Bengal and Bihar over the next 24 hours,” an official from the weather office said.