|File photo of a SpiceJet plane at Calcutta airport
An eagle-eyed pilot of a SpiceJet flight from Bangalore swooshed the plane back to the sky seconds before landing as he saw a man trudging on the runway at Calcutta airport on Friday.
The man, S.N. Murumu, was a hired bird-chaser from the vicinity of the runway but the cardinal mistake of walking on the landing strip cost him his job. Airport officials immediately derostered him and the directorate general of civil aviation has started a probe.
The SpiceJet flight, carrying 165 passengers, was about to land on the secondary runway of the airport around noon.
“Just before the final approach, the pilot saw a man walking along the runway. He immediately alerted air traffic control. He was told to abort landing and make a go-around,” said a senior airport official. The flight landed after hovering for about 10 minutes.
The Airports Authority of India (AAI) employ bird-chasers to keep the runway and its surroundings free of winged creatures that could lead to aeroplane bird-hits.
According to airport sources, the SpiceJet flight was landing on the northern end of the secondary runway and was about 3.5km from the airport on the Madhyamgram side. “It would have taken less than a minute for the aircraft to land. Had it landed, there could have been a disaster,” said an official.
Experts said the narrow-bodied SpiceJet aircraft has an average landing speed of 250kmph. “If the pilot had noticed the man a few seconds later, he wouldn’t have been able to abort landing. If he had tried to stop the plane at that speed, there could have been a disaster,” an official said.
“A bird-chaser is not supposed to enter an operational runway, whatever the circumstances. They can stay a few feet away from the edge of the strip and set off firecrackers if they spot a bird,” said the official.
Sources said Murumu had worked as a chowkidar at the old terminals. After the new terminal was opened in March 2013, private agency guards replaced him and several others.
“Murumu was given the new responsibility a few months ago,” said an official. He said the bird-chaser had been briefed about his job with special instructions that he would not enter a runway.
Calcutta airport has witnessed several cases of pilot heroics in the past.
In 2009, the pilot of Air India’s Haj flight, which was about two minutes from landing, spotted an aircraft a few hundred metres ahead entering the same runway and made a go-around after alerting the ATC.
In 2011, a Thai Air Asia flight from Bangkok with 140 passengers landed on the primary runway that was closed for repairs. The engineers and workers managed to flee before the plane landed.