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Close shave for China flight - Snag in mid-air forces plane to dump fuel in Bay, return

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By Staff Reporter
  • Published 17.03.08
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A China Eastern flight from the city that developed a snag in mid-air hovered over the Bay of Bengal and dumped fuel, before making a risky landing at the airport with 42 people on board.

The CRJ aircraft, which was to fly to Kunming, developed a snag shortly after take-off at 12.35am on Sunday. “The nose wheel was not retracting because of a problem in the landing gear. Within minutes, the pilot sought a priority landing,” said an airport official.

Half an hour after take-off, the passengers were told that the flight was returning to Calcutta because of a “mechanical problem”, said Wong Shu Zhi, who was on the plane.

“We were scared and started praying for a safe landing,” said another passenger. Their anxiety was prolonged with the plane hovering over the Bay for an hour to dump fuel.

“Aircraft are designed in such a way that the load during landing must be less than that during take-off. So, the fuel needed to be dumped to reduce the plane’s weight,” explained a pilot.

The flight touched down on the main runway around 2.20am. “The aircraft started lurching sideways as it descended. We thought it would overturn after landing. The plane stopped with such a big jerk that we would have been thrown off our seats had it not been for the safety belts,” said a passenger.

Airport officials said the pilot had no control over the nose wheel, which had turned 180 degrees. The plane stopped tilting to the left.

“The nose wheel provides direction after landing. With the nose wheel stuck, the aircraft could have gone off the runway or overturned,” added the pilot.

Ambulances and fire brigade surrounded the plane as soon as it became stationary. The plane — with the passengers and crew on board — had to be moved out of the runway with a tow bar. The runway was cleared around 3am.

The passengers waited in the lounge till around 8am, when the flight was cancelled. “A Boeing flight will take the passengers to Kunming. The empty aircraft will fly there after repairs,” said an official of the airline.

Calcutta-Kunming operations started on October 30 last year with three flights a week. Daily flights were started last week.