Plane crashes into homes near airport - Instructor, trainee pilot dead

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By G.S. RADHAKRISHNA in Hyderabad
  • Published 8.09.08
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Hyderabad, Sept. 8: A two-seater plane crashed into a middle-class colony here today, its nose smashing through a roof and showering smouldering debris into a room, killing the trainee pilot and his instructor but causing no serious casualties on the ground.

The broken tail of the Cessna 152 stuck to the asbestos roof while most of the wreckage fell between this house and the next, cracking its walls. None of the two houses’ occupants was home at the time of the 11am crash.

However, portions of a wing went through the roof of a third house, causing minor head and eye injuries to a 16-year-old girl, Madhavi, who was studying for her exams on a cot.

The crash happened minutes after the plane had taken off from the city’s old Begumpet airport, which is surrounded by housing colonies and slums.

“I watched horrified as the small aircraft wobbled and dived downwards. It hit the ground a little ahead of my house, else it would have killed my family,” said Murali Prasad, a shopkeeper who lives 10 houses down the road from the accident site.

Ten yards from the site was a Ganesh pandal, where at least 15 people were milling about.

S.N. Reddy, chairman of the AP Aviation Academy, a private flying club that owned the plane, denied any mechanical snag. “Either the plane had a bird-hit and the pilot was trying to crash-land, or he lost control trying to avoid a bird,” he said.

Eyewitnesses said the plane flew dangerously low, missed hitting the Fatehnagar railway flyover, struck a high-tension wire and then an electric pole, and came down on the Sannatnagar colony.

Janardhan Reddy, riding a scooter on the flyover, froze as the plane seemed about to hit the railings. “It missed narrowly but struck the electric wires and then the pole before falling on the houses.”

Pilot Srinivas, 24, who had clocked only 10 hours of flying, was killed on the spot, his body burnt beyond recognition.

As residents came running, a grievously wounded Niraj Jain, the 26-year-old instructor, shouted at them to pull him out of the wreckage quickly, saying the plane could blow up any moment.

The residents extricated Jain — who died on the way to hospital — and after the explosion doused the flames with buckets of water and sand so the fire wouldn’t spread to the houses. One young man suffered minor burns.

The accident occurred months after commercial operations were shifted to the new Shamshabad airport, leaving the Begumpet airfield as a training facility for air force and private flying academies.

“What we had been warning about for decades came true today,” said Rama Rao, head of an NGO that had campaigned to have the airport shut down because of its proximity to settlements.

Had the aircraft crashed on the other side of the flyover, residents said, the toll would have been higher. “It would have hit the power substation and several huts near the airport boundary wall,” said Mohammed Ghouse, a scooter mechanic.

The Cessna is the fourth training aircraft to crash in and around Hyderabad this year — including two from the air force academy at Dindigul, 25km away — but the first to come down on a residential area.

Aviation experts said flying clubs continued to use aircraft past their average life span of 15 years. The Cessna that crashed today was 20 years old, sources said.