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Scare for 175 on Kathmandu flight

New Delhi, March 8: The rear brake of an IndiGo Airbus 320 from Delhi caught fire as it landed in Kathmandu this afternoon, but the 175 passengers were evacuated safely through emergency exits.

The Saturday afternoon flight, 6E031, is known as the “casino flight” since many punters from Delhi and its neighbourhood catch it to spend the weekend gambling in Nepal.

They fly back to Delhi on Monday after betting crores of rupees at Nepal’s casinos, sources said.

It is not known whether any of the 175 passengers on board today’s flight, which had a crew of six, was a punter.

Officials at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport said the fire had been “immediately controlled” and that its cause was being investigated.

According to a preliminary inquiry, heavy braking during landing could have led to a hydraulic leak and caused sparks, directorate-general of civil aviation (DGCA) officials said.

IndiGo, however, ruled out “hard landing” as the cause of the fire and said the plane had made a normal landing at Kathmandu.

“Hard landing is ruled out,” an IndiGo spokesperson said in Mumbai.

“After parking, the ground engineer observed smoke and fire from the right brake assembly and advised evacuation of all passengers and crew,” an airline statement said.

“Some 171 passengers were evacuated by the slide-chute, by which time the fire was under control. The balance passengers and crew left the aircraft by the forward step ladder. All passengers were evacuated by the IndiGo crew in 81 seconds.”

The statement by the low-cost, no-frills airline added: “The aircraft is only two years old. We have seen the maintenance records and no snags reported. No damage to the aircraft.”

Passengers for the return flight to Delhi who had arrived at the Kathmandu airport were being accommodated in a nearby hotel till an alternative aircraft could be readied tonight.

IndiGo said it was in touch with the DGCA to obtain permission to send another aircraft to bring the passengers booked on the Kathmandu-Delhi flight.

“Subject to DGCA approval, we hope to operate the Kathmandu-Delhi flight at 9pm Kathmandu time,” the airline’s statement said this evening.

The aircraft that caught fire is expected to be ready for operations tomorrow, the airline spokesperson in Mumbai said.

IndiGo’s chief of safety, Captain Dhruv, is said to have reached Kathmandu.

A DGCA official said that airport officials in Kathmandu would already have begun investigations and would inform the civil aviation regulator of the reasons behind the fire.

“We would be independently conducting an inquiry as well,” he added.

The incident occurred a few hours after a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 carrying 229 people went missing over the Gulf of Thailand while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Yesterday, a twin-engine Otter plane belonging to Nepal Airlines had made an emergency landing at Kathmandu after it experienced problems with its engine.