Fifty-three people aboard a Guwahati-bound aircraft had a miraculous escape on Sunday when the woman pilot averted a tragedy by her deft handling of an emergency landing.The aircraft had lost one of its nose wheels during takeoff from the Kumbhirgram airport in Silchar.

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

Captain Urmila Yadav circled Air India flight AI-9760 over the Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi International (LGBI) airport for about one hour and asked the crew to shift some goods from the cockpit to the rear to reduce the load to facilitate safe landing.

The passengers thanked the pilot for saving them.

Gogoi's pat for pilot

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi congratulated Captain Urmila and co-pilot Yashu for saving the passengers' lives. “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 when the crew gave flight safety demonstration for the second time after flying for about 30 minutes.

He said:

“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 lady passenger seated in front of me fainted and several passengers started crying. I kept calm and composed, leaving everything to God.

“We came to know that aircraft flew extra time to burn fuel midair and as soon as the aircraft landed the engine was switched off and it came to 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. They 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 and 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 did very good handling of the entire situation. If the aircraft had made a normal landing without knowing that one of its nose wheels is missing then anything could have happened,” said an ATC official.

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