CRISIS CALL: The cockpit of a plane preparing for an emergency landing
Calcutta airport handled three emergencies in five hours on Tuesday: a plane that crashed after bombs exploded mid-air, one that made a “priority landing” because of a sudden increase in the cabin temperature and another that had a bird hit after takeoff.
The first one was staged, the other two were for real.
A normal afternoon panned out into a nerve-wracking evening for airport staff after Air Traffic Control received a message from an “unknown source” about an international flight with explosives on board crash-landing at 2.21pm.
Sirens blared and an ambulance and fire-tenders sped towards the “affected aircraft”, standing near an Air India hangar. “The bomb disposal squad went inside and took out some explosives (fake),” an official who was involved in the operation said.
Ground supervisors rushed to the runway to ensure that both runways were operational despite the crash. State-run hospitals like RG Kar Medical College and Hospital and Medical College and Hospital were alerted.
At 3.10pm, a senior official of the Airports Authority of India announced that it was only a mock drill. The aircraft, it turned out, was a Kingfisher Airlines plane.
“We were relaxing after the frenetic activity when, within 15 minutes, there was another message from the control room about an emergency landing,” another official said.
This time, it was a SpiceJet flight from Guwahati to Calcutta with 94 passengers on board, seeking permission to make an emergency landing. Within minutes, the ambulance and fire-tenders were back on the tarmac but the flight landed safely at 3.30pm.
Engineers later detected a snag in the air-conditioning system, which had caused the cabin temperature to shoot up.
The airport’s date with emergencies was, however, not over. A Calcutta-Mumbai Air India flight (IC 273) that took off at 6.47pm with 143 passengers on board was hit by a bird moments later. Like the SpiceJet plane, it made a priority landing and returned to the parking bay at 7.15pm.
“The aircraft’s windshield developed a crack,” an Air India official said. The passengers were shifted to another aircraft that took off at 8.20pm.