Panda flies into low-height row

Odisha police have summoned former MP Baijayant 'Jay' Panda and his two friends for allegedly flying over the Chilika lake at a height less than 500ft causing threat to the sensitive ecosystem of the Ramsar site and breaching aviation rules.

By Subhashish Mohanty and Lelin Mallick
  • Published 19.09.18
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UP IN ARMS: BJD MLAs stage a demonstration on the Assembly premises in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday. Picture by Ashwinee Pati

Bhubaneswar: Odisha police have summoned former MP Baijayant 'Jay' Panda and his two friends for allegedly flying over the Chilika lake at a height less than 500ft causing threat to the sensitive ecosystem of the Ramsar site and breaching aviation rules.

Superintendent of police, Puri, Sarthak Sarangi said: "Based on the FIR lodged by the Chilika Development Authority (CDA), we have sought a report from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) about the chopper that flew over Chilika."

"The Airports Authority of India has said only one chopper that belonged to Indian Metals and Ferro Alloys (IMFA), the company owned by Panda's family, took off from Bhubaneswar airport on September 15. We have asked Panda and his friends to report before the police by 11am on Wednesday at the Puri Sadar police station," he said.

The police lodged an FIR following a complaint from the CDA with the Marine police station at Arakhakuda in Puri that the chopper had on Saturday violated air rules and flew at a height less than 500ft threatening fishermen in the Chilika lagoon.

Authorities of the Biju Patnaik International Airport had assigned a flight height of 500ft for the "R-44" type helicopter that Panda piloted.

Aviation rules categorically state that a helicopter must maintain a minimum height of 1,000ft if flying over populated areas and 500ft if flying over water or unpopulated areas.

Acting on the complaint, the police have sealed the hangar, where the helicopter is kept. It was alleged that Panda took his two friends - Aarti Tikoo Singh and Abhijit Iyer Mitra - on a joyride to Chilika, Konark and Puri.

Panda, who was the pilot of the chopper, had violated all air rules and tried to come close to the lagoon's water. According to DGCA rules, a chopper should fly at least 500ft above sea level, an official said.

Sarangi said: "We have sealed the hangar so that no data about its flight record could be tampered with. We have asked the IMFA authorities to bring the two passengers as we don't have detailed information about them."

Chief executive officer of the CDA, Sushant Nanda, said: "As far as my knowledge is concerned the area has not been declared a no-flying zone. We have lodged the complaint because the chopper had flown below 500ft making the atmosphere noxious and foul for Chilika lake water and damaging the navigation route. The pilot's act had frightened the local people, tourists and fishermen."

Panda, however, said: "Attempts are being made to handicap my movements around Odisha." He tweeted: "A local cop from Puri has come to Bhubaneswar airport & 'seized' the hangar & the helicopter i fly... Clearly, facts have no bearing, & cops privately admit 'orders from 3rd floor' ...Brazen attempt to handicap my movement around Odisha, but they can't stop me." (sic)

On his flying details, Panda tweeted: "It so happens i had flown a *helicopter* on Saturday & at a totally different time! ATC records will show that: I flew from 8.45 AM over Rajhans-Puri-Konark & landed at Kendrapada at 10.28 AM... & I flew from Kendrapada at 12.50 PM, landing @ Bhubaneswar 1.30pm (sic)."

Panda raised the flight time issue as a junior official of the Chilika administration had stated that the incident of height breach occurred around 1.15pm. However, later the Puri SP said that the incident happened between 8.30am and 1.30pm.

As the investigation proceeds, Biju Patnaik International Airport chief Suresh Chandra Hota said: "The DGCA is inquiring into the flight details. They will get all information from the black box of the chopper."

The issue also found its echo in the Assembly. BJD MLAs on Tuesday staged a dharna demanding action against Panda.

BJD MLA Sanjay Das Burma said: "This is an eco-sensitive area. Panda should not have flown the chopper. His act had endangered the lives of the dolphins and created disturbance in the navigation of birds."