Bhutan Airlines flight B3-701 at Calcutta airport, with evacuation slides deployed against the doors through which 67 passengers and seven crew members were evacuated. The Airbus A319 was scheduled to fly to Bangkok from Calcutta before smoke was seen coming out of its tail. Picture courtesy: Indian Coast Guard
Calcutta, Sept. 9: Passengers of a Bangkok-bound flight had to jump off the aircraft via chutes onto a Calcutta airport taxiway today after the pilot of another aircraft detected smoke from the plane's tail.
Bhutan Airlines flight B3-701, carrying 67 passengers, five flight attendants and two pilots, had barely begun taxiing towards the runway around noon when the pilot of a just-landed IndiGo flight from Imphal saw the smoke.
Airport officials said the pilot of the Bhutan Airlines flight immediately sounded three "Maydays" to air traffic control. Four chutes or evacuation slides were deployed and all 74 people were brought out within 90 seconds in keeping with international aviation protocol, airport officials said.
Some of the passengers and crew members suffered minor cuts or bruises.
Officers of the coastguard's airport unit were inspecting their hangar when they saw passengers sliding down the chutes and "screaming in panic", deputy commandant Pankaj Mishra said.
The coastguard unit took some of the passengers into its ambulance and provided first aid. The directorate-general of civil aviation has ordered a probe.
An airline spokesperson said the smoke, "which was seen coming out... around the APU (auxiliary power unit) area... soon dissipated by itself".
"The aircraft was thoroughly inspected by our flight engineer (who) found no major damages," following which the pilot flew the empty aircraft to Bangkok for further checks.
"Another aircraft came from Paro (Bhutan) to take the stranded passengers to Bangkok," another airline official said.
The flight had arrived in the morning from Paro and was parked, attached to an aerobridge, at bay number 59. At 11.55am, it began taxiing. IndiGo's Imphal-Calcutta flight had landed minutes earlier and was taxiing from the runway towards the parking bay.
"The IndiGo pilot saw the smoke and alerted air traffic control before speaking directly to the Bhutan Airlines pilot," an airport official said.
An A319 aircraft allows six chutes to be deployed at a time - four for the doors and two for the two exit windows. But since the number of passengers was low, four chutes were used, sources said.
Images of passengers sliding down chutes had been beamed to global TV audiences on January 15, 2009, when a US Airways Airbus A320-214 struck a flock of geese minutes after takeoff from New York and lost all engine power.
Pilots Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles somehow crash-landed the plane on the River Hudson. All 155 people on board slid down chutes and were rescued by nearby boats.