| The Air Sahara plane in Mumbai. (Fotocorp)
Mumbai, Oct. 13: The country’s busiest airport has never seen anything like this before: an army of engineers using railway sleepers and a flat-tyre tactic more familiar on roads toiling for hours to tow away a jet that got stuck off the main runway.
As many as 75 engineers sweated it out in Mumbai overnight to extricate the Air Sahara Boeing 737 that squatted on the slush for three-and-a-half days like a painted whale that washed ashore.
But the chaos at the airport continued well into Thursday evening as the facility struggled to cope with the backlog of incoming and outgoing flights.
The Air Sahara Calcutta-Mumbai flight had overshot the landing threshold on Sunday evening, and got stuck in the soft ground.
According to airport sources, the engineers from Air-India, Air Sahara, the airport authority and the railways could not move the aircraft till 5 am.
After three hours of hard work with inflatable balloons filled with compressed air, ropes, compressors, jacks and pulleys, the aircraft was extricated and moved to the main runway around 7.50 am.
It took two more hours for the team to shift the aircraft from the main runway to the Indian Airlines hangar at the airport.
By then, 27 of Indian Airlines’ 29 departures were delayed by 30 minutes to more than an hour. “One flight to New Delhi was delayed by two full hours,” Indian Airlines spokesperson K. Swaminathan said.
Private airlines also reported delays ranging between 45 minutes and an hour.
The Calcutta-Mumbai Air Sahara flight reached Mumbai skies this morning an hour after scheduled landing time, but had to be diverted to Ahmedabad due to insufficient fuel. “We were stuck at Ahmedabad for two hours and started back for Mumbai at 1.30 pm,” said a harried passenger.
Airports Authority of India chairman K. Ramalingam and Union civil aviation minister Praful Patel arrived in Mumbai on Wednesday night to inspect the operation.
Pulak Sen, editor-in-chief of the niche magazine, Indian Aviation, said: “Recovering an aircraft from the soft ground should not have taken four days. You cannot keep the main runway of a busy airport blocked for four days. I think there was some lack of co-ordination on part of airport authorities.”
nFour inflatable balloons were placed under the fuselage, wings and engines to lift the aircraft. The balloons work the same way as a jack does in replacing a car tyre.
nThe railway sleepers were laid on the soft ground to install steel plates and create a makeshift road.
nThe damaged nose-wheel stuck in the slush was replaced before tow-trucks and pulleys moved the aircraft along the steel-plated path towards the main runway.