| The flat tyres of the plane in Patna. Picture by Deepak Kumar
Patna, Jan. 18: An Indian Airlines flight from Delhi today missed disaster by a whisker after both tyres of its right rear wheel gave way during touchdown at Patna airport.
The mishap occurred as the wheels “thumped on to the runway” of the Jayaprakash Narayan Airport, “tearing the tyres and bending the wheels”, airport director Atul Dixit said.
All 57 passengers and seven crew of the IA (now renamed Indian) flight are safe. Union minister of state for food processing Subodh Kant Sahay was on the plane, which was to fly on to Ranchi.
Patna airport officials said the accident might have been fatal had the pilot not slammed the emergency brakes suddenly, bringing the plane to a screeching halt in the middle of the runway.
“We heard the sudden brake, which was followed by a noise, then the flight skidded to the right and quickly stopped. Despite the initial panic, all were disembarked quickly. It was nothing short of God’s providence that we are all safe,” Sahay said.
There were conflicting reports on whether the tyres had burst due to a “heavy landing” or simply “deflated”. IA officials claimed two of IC 809’s 10 tyres had deflated, “something which sometimes happens”.
“These things are not unknown and do happen ' it’s not something which placed the lives of passengers at risk,” an official said.
The IA officials claimed it was premature to call it a “heavy landing”, which would imply that the pilot had landed at a wrong angle.
Aerospace engineering experts from IIT Mumbai, however, said the consequences could have been tragic whether the tyres had burst or simply deflated.
At touchdown, either would lead to an abrupt imbalance and a side force, which would put tremendous strain on the landing gear, Hemendra Arya said.
In a worst-case scenario, the landing gear could even shear off, causing the wing and the engine on that side to graze the ground while moving forward at high speed, he cautioned.
All flights from Patna airport have been re-routed, including several from Calcutta, and six cancelled. Restoring air traffic is likely to take a day as the airport does not have a crane to tow away the craft. Nor is it equipped to replace the tyres.
“Both have to come from outside Patna,” an airport source said. A probe has been ordered.