Kochi flight landed in Thiruvananthapuram due to low visibility

It was the first vacation overseas for 10-year-old Nandana. She, along with her mother, Cecily, and sister, Neethu, visited Abu Dhabi where her father Viswanathan was employed. The family did not quite mind the delay in their flight to Abu Dhabi, but nothing prepared them for what they faced on their return journey.

The young girl and her family were among the 200-odd passengers who declined to disembark at the Thiruvananthapuram airport after the flight IX 4522 Air India Express was diverted from Kochi in view of low visibility.

“It was very hot inside the flight (after the air-conditioners were switched off) and I was scared by the commotion,” said a visibly tired Nandana. The flight was to reach Cochin International Airport here at 3.30 a.m. and the family got out of the terminal at 4 p.m. The ordeal was not to end there for the hapless family. They had to see Neethu off to Singapore by the 1.50 a.m. flight before heading back to their house in Wayanad.

The Air India Express touched down here at 2.35 p.m. and the first passenger who came out nearly an hour later was mobbed by mediapersons waiting outside the International arrival terminal. Abdu Rabb, who has been working in Abu Dhabi for the past 33 years, said it was his first experience.

The flight, which was to start at 10 p.m. from Abu Dhabi, started by 12.30 a.m. Abdul Rahiman, a youth who is settled in Abu Dhabi and is on a short visit to the State, shouted to those present, “please do not take this flight ever. This is my personal request to all who are coming back from abroad.”

More than the hardship that they had to endure on board the flight during the delay, those like Sunil Kumar had other reasons to worry. Mr. Sunil Kumar, employed as a marketing manager abroad, was coming to attend the viva voce of his MBA examination. “The external examiner of the Sikkim Manipal University was to give the test at the University’s training centre at Palakkad at 11 a.m. (on Friday). When the flight was delayed, I called them up and asked for extension till 5 p.m., but I am sure I will not make it now.”

Almost all passengers said the airline officials were “arrogant” and that the complaint that passengers forced their way into the cockpit was false. “All we did was to stop the pilot, who was a woman, from leaving the flight till a replacement came. Because, we were promised that the flight will return to Kochi after refuelling in Thiruvananthapuram,” said Anita, a bank employee from Guruvayur.

The passengers, who refused to disembark, were not given anything to eat or drink till 11 a.m., even though the flight landed in Thiruvananthapuram at 6.50 a.m. “Even the single piece of cake and bottle of water was supplied after much protest. There was a pregnant woman and a six-month-old infant too among the passengers,” said Shanavas of Vadanappally.

Many of the passengers refused to leave the terminal as seven persons, including a woman, and two children were detained at the immigration point for interrogation. Paulson, brother of Thomson, one of the persons detained, said someone called him and asked to be around. “They could have asked if they wanted to while the flight was in Thiruvananthapuram.”

But Abdul Khader, one of the detainees, said the security personnel just asked them to wait and did not ask anything. “One official from the Kerala Police punched me, because we resisted the move to take a couple of passengers away. How can the Kerala Police enter the flight and assault us? We have decided to lodge a complaint against the authorities before we leave the airport,” he said. Mr. Khader is from Thrissur.

He exchanged contact numbers with others who were detained and agreed to be in touch, as they were not sure what the authorities were planning to do with the details noted down from their passports.

Senior police officials present, however, said no case has been registered against any passenger. The airline officials had lodged a complaint, which will be forwarded to the State Police Chief, who is conducting an inquiry into the incident, they said.