A woman pilot averted an air tragedy on Sunday by her deft handling of a Guwahati-bound aircraft after it lost one of its nosewheels during takeoff from the Kumbhirgram airport in Silchar.

The ATR aircraft had 48 passengers. Its five-member crew comprised three women, including the pilot.

Captain Urmila Yadav, circled the Air India flight AI-9760 over the Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi International (LGBI) airport here for about one hour before she made a skilful emergency landing.

Earlier she asked the crew to shift some goods from the cockpit to the rear to reduce the load on the front, to facilitate safe landing.

The passengers thanked the pilot for saving their lives.

Gogoi's pat for pilot

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi congratulated Captain Urmila and co-pilot Yashu. “Hats off to you and your co-pilot for your daring and courageous act which saved the precious lives of passengers,” he told her over the phone, an official release said.

Narrating his experience, noted Assamese linguist and a senior official of the Assam Agricultural University Sumanta Chaliha told The Hindu the passengers got wind of the emergency situation only when the crew gave flight safety demonstration for the second time after flying for about 30 minutes.

“When we asked the crew if anything had gone wrong, we were told that there was a minor technical snag and it was being taken care of. However, after some time they made a formal announcement of an emergency landing. We came to know that the aircraft lost one of its nose wheels. A woman passenger seated in front of me fainted and several passengers started crying. I was calm and composed, leaving everything to God.

“We came to know that the aircraft flew extra time to burn fuel midair and as soon as the aircraft landed the engine was switched off. It came to a halt quickly. While getting down I noticed that one of the nose wheels was missing.”

It was the Air Traffic Control (ATC) of the Indian Air Force at Kumbhirgram which noticed that something had fallen off the aircraft after it took off. It then alerted the LGBI ATC.

“We knew that the aircraft was coming with a wheel of nose assembly missing. The pilot was informed and asked if she would land or fly off. When she said she would land, she was asked to do a mandatory low pass so that the ground staff could inspect the nose assembly. We requested her to hold over Guwahati for sometime till we cleared the runway. A Kolkata-bound Spicejet flight was allowed to take off and an in-coming Air India flight from Delhi allowed to land. After the runway was cleared, the aircraft was allowed to land. The pilot really did a skilful landing and handled the entire situation very well. If the aircraft had made a normal landing without knowing that one of its nose wheels was missing then anything could have happened,” said an ATC official.

The scheduled departure of the flight from Silchar was 7.20 a.m. but it was delayed due to inclement weather. The flight took off at 9 a.m.