The tail of the grounded AirAsia flight is visible from outside Birsa Munda Airport in Ranchi on Saturday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Ranchi, July 15: An AirAsia flight with 174 passengers on board had narrow escape after it suffered a bird-hit while taking off for Delhi from Birsa Munda Airport here this morning, with passengers saying the pilot's presence of mind and timely action prevented what could have turned fatal for all of them.
Multiple sources confirmed to The Telegraph that the bird-hit occurred moments before the plane was to be airborne and that the pilot applied the brakes just in time.
"Suddenly there was a loud, repetitive sound, as though a car engine had got stuck... ghad-ghad awaj aa raha tha," recalled Kumar Gaurav, who was on board. "The pilot, it seemed, applied the brakes immediately... and about 5-10 minutes later, the doors of the plane were opened with a technical team rushing in and asking us to get off quickly," he added.
Gaurav, who is president of the state Youth Congress, quoted an AirAsia engineer as commenting that as many as eight blades of the right turbine were damaged. "He said with that kind of damage, landing would have been next to impossible had the plane taken off," Gaurav said.
Some other passengers claimed they saw sparks coming out of the right engine, too, said airport sources.
The flight, I5 541, which was scheduled to leave for Delhi at 9.30am was grounded after the incident. An AirAsia flight that came from Calcutta in the afternoon was later sent to Delhi with the passengers of flight I5 514. Air Asia's 2.20pm flight to Calcutta was cancelled.
Ranchi airport director Anil Vikram confirmed the bird-hit. "The AirAsia flight suffered a bird-hit at 9.40am. All are safe. The flight is grounded now. We are assessing the situation," he said.
A woman at the Air Asia counter at the airport said the 5.20pm flight to Delhi was likely to be delayed by at least two hours. "The passengers of the Calcutta flight that was cancelled will be refunded. We are also trying to make alternative arrangements in other connecting flights," she told The Telegraph .
Gaurav was still shaken. "Honestly, I thought for a moment that we were all gone," he said before boarding the afternoon flight to Delhi. "I can't actually explain what was going through our minds... but I must say the pilot has done a tremendous job."
Bharat Singh, another passenger, said he felt relieved after the ordeal only after he was out of the aircraft.
"For around 15 minutes, there was panic in the flight which was almost full today. I too got nervous for sometime, but felt relaxed after coming out of the plane. After that, everyone had to collect their baggage from the belt and wait to check in again," said Singh, a BJP leader and proprietor of RVS College of Engineering And Technology in Jamshedpur.