A crane tows away the copter while workers clean the runway. Picture by Prashant Mitra
The lean traffic at Birsa Munda Airport went leaner on Wednesday as the chief minister’s chopper crash right on the runway prompted cancellation of one flight and rescheduling of two others.
Currently, just three airlines operate six flights from the state capital. Of these, the Ahmedabad-Mumbai-Patna-Ranchi-Mumbai-Ahmedabad of Go Air, which was scheduled to arrive at 12.50pm and take off at 1.20pm, remained cancelled. The Delhi-Ranchi-Delhi Air India flight and Calcutta-Ranchi-Calcutta Jet Airways flight had to be rescheduled, delaying touchdowns and take-offs by more than five hours.
The August AW 109, with six persons on board including Arjun Munda, wife Meera and Majhgaon MLA Barkuanr Gagrai, developed a snag on its way to Kuchai in Seraikela-Kharsawan around noon. Alert pilot Vipul Kumar Singh sniffed trouble and flew back to the capital, but tried in vain to land the chopper on the runway, crashing on the western flank at 12.30pm.
Armed with a mobile crane and debris cleaning gear, a dozen-strong team of airport workers began clearing the blocked runway around 2.50pm. Flight services resumed two hours later.
“We had to take a quick decision and cleared the runway on the western side by 4.45pm,” an official at Birsa Munda Airport said.
Sources said the Air India flight, which was to take off from Delhi at 1.25pm and reach Ranchi at 2.50pm, was rescheduled to land at 9pm and fly back at 9.30pm. The Jet Airways flight, which was scheduled to arrive at 12.55pm and take off for Calcutta at 1.25pm, was allowed to land at 6pm and take off at 6.30pm.
Manjit Singh, who intended to catch the Ranchi-Delhi Air India flight scheduled at 3.25pm, was among many passengers whose plans went haywire on Wednesday.
“I needed to catch a connecting flight for Bhopal from Delhi. But, I guess I won’t be able to make it,” Singh said as he waited at the airport.
There were, however, no changes in the flightplan of three other scheduled services — one in the afternoon and two in the evening.
The Ranchi-Delhi Jet Airways flight arrived in the state capital at 11.35am and departed at 12.05pm, barely 25 minutes before the copter crash.
While the Ranchi-Calcutta Jet Airways flight arrived at 6.50pm and left at 7.20pm, the Ranchi-Delhi Go Air flight also maintained its 7.35pm arrival and 8.05pm departure schedules.
The Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has ordered a probe into the crash and airport officials said the chopper had been removed without further damage to facilitate proper probe. “The chopper was towed away slowly and smoothly, without causing body shake, which can have an adverse impact on probe,” an airport official said.