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Jet loses touch with ground

New Delhi, April 10: A Jet Airways flight from London to Mumbai was reported missing for more than 30 minutes while flying over Germany, apparently because the pilots forgot to turn up the speaker volume after removing their headsets.

The March 13 incident, days after the mysterious disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, triggered panic among German aviation authorities who later complained to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) here.

The pilots, who have both apologised, have since been taken off the roster, a senior official of the DGCA said today, adding that it was a case of serious negligence.

“This is a serious case of negligence and we have already formed a team to give us a full report. We will take necessary and strict steps. The pilots have been already taken off the airline’s roster and we will ensure that necessary action is taken against then,” the official said.

“We are constantly in touch with the German aviation authorities and keeping them abreast of the situation.”

Aviation experts said such a situation was dangerous and even life threatening for a plane’s passengers and the crew.

“An aircraft cannot cut off communication ever. I believe it could be some system malfunctioning if the cockpit communication system was not working properly. An aircraft cut off from the ground can stray anywhere, there could be miscommunication and could be perceived as a spy plane.

“In worst-case situations, such aircraft, if the ATC believes is dangerous, can be shot down as well,” said Robin Pathak, aviation analyst and former Air India director.

“Private airlines in India cut corners at all the wrong places and do not spend much on equipment. The DGCA should suspend the licences of the pilots and take appropriate action against the company,” he added.

German air traffic control DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH had hit the panic button after the break in communication. It was only after the ATC staff called the airline, which sent an emergency SMS to the cockpit via the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) fitted in the aircraft, that the pilots responded and apologised for not responding to the German ATC.

In their official deposition to the DGCA, the two pilots claimed they had overlooked the low volume on their headsets and said they had removed their headphones, resulting in the break in communication.

ACARS is a transmission system through which ground operations can send short messages to an aircraft via air-band radio or satellite.

The DGCA has held a meeting with Jet’s operations manager as well as other officials in Mumbai and asked for an explanation.

Jet Airways has sent a probe report to DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung, which had sought it within 10 days.

The DGCA is awaiting a response from the German ATC. “Based on the investigation report, Jet Airways has ensured strict disciplinary action against the pilots concerned. The report has been sent to the German authorities for closure,” a Jet spokesperson said.