Two hundred and thirteen passengers and 16 crew members of an Air India flight (AI-829) to Riyadh had a miraculous escape after the aircraft’s left engine caught fire at the Mumbai airport on Friday morning.

As the exits of the Boeing 747 were opened for emergency evacuation, rubber chutes stowed in carrier structures inflated and dropped down from the aircraft like slides. All on board were evacuated immediately.

“Around 20 passengers sustained minor injuries and they were provided medical attention,” Air India spokesperson K. Bharathi said. Air India sent the passengers to Riyadh by another flight that left at 6 p.m.

As for the cause, ATC general manager M.G. Jhungare said: “As the plane was taxiing for takeoff, ATC officials spotted oil spillage from the left engine and alerted the pilot. Fire tenders were rushed and the fire was doused immediately.”

C.P.M.P. Raju, Director of Air Safety for the western region, Directorate General of Civil Aviation, said: “Fuel leakage in engine one is suspected to be the cause. Further investigations are on.”

A senior AI pilot said: “It is the job of the maintenance engineer to check for fuel leakages before a flight takes off. If a leakage caused the fire, the maintenance engineer is at fault.”

The maintenance engineer in charge of the aircraft was de-rostered, and an inquiry ordered. There had been a series of incidents at the Mumbai airport in the recent past. On August 23, two private jets had a near-miss mid-air after they took off from the same runway; the pilots of both aircraft obeyed the take-off clearance given to only one of them. On May 31, two aircraft got clearance to take off simultaneously from two intersecting runways, but the pilots stopped the planes just in time. On February 9, an IA aircraft and a helicopter that was part of President Pratibha Patil’s convoy were involved in a near-miss situation.

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