Mumbai, July 30: Mumbai escaped another tragedy this morning after an Air-India flight carrying 333 passengers skidded off a rain-drenched runway immediately after landing.
None on board Flight 127 was injured, however, as the Boeing 747-400 came to a halt on soft ground a few metres from the boundary wall of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
The nose-wheel of the aircraft, which had flown in from Bangalore and was to fly to Chicago via Frankfurt, was damaged after it ploughed through several runway lights.
The mishap happened at 7 am on the airport’s smaller, second runway which many pilots and foreign airlines believe to be substandard.
The plane was towed away to a hangar while the passengers were put on another aircraft, which took off for Frankfurt at 12.05 pm.
The accident threw domestic flight schedules into disarray in Mumbai and elsewhere, such as in Delhi, adding to the misery of already harried passengers. Floods had shut down the Mumbai airport from Tuesday till Thursday evening.
Pilots said in private the aviation authorities had persistently ignored their complaints about the smaller runway. It was being used as rain had damaged the instrument landing systems (ILS) on the other three runways.
“The (smaller) runway is substandard. Foreign airlines had expressed concern about the runway and refused to use it,” a pilot said.
“Strong tailwinds and crosswinds on this runway have posed difficulties during landing, especially during the rains. ”
Singapore Airlines announced it had cancelled its Mumbai-Singapore flights till Monday because the main runway wouldn’t be available till Sunday afternoon.
Civil aviation minister Praful Patel said the pilot, Capt Jagdish Raj, had not applied full brakes to avoid skidding off the wet tarmac, yet the plane failed to stop where it was expected to and overshot the runway.
But the passengers were jittery. Anees Ahmed, state dairy development and animal husbandry minister, who had a window seat, said: “The plane circled for 45 minutes. The pilot had announced that visibility was zero. He did well to stop it (the plane). We were about 25 to 30 metres from the boundary wall.”
The pilots told us it had become a bit risky landing planes in Mumbai during monsoon.”
A source said tailwinds of between two and four knots were ideal for landing during the wet season, but currently tailwinds were reaching up to 10 knots.