K.V. Subramanya and Rasheed Kappan
Bound for Kochi, it developed technical snag five minutes after take-off
BANGALORE: A six-seat private aircraft crashed into a dry lakebed here on Saturday afternoon, killing four commercial pilots, three of them on the spot.
The aircraft, owned by Kerala-based Joy Alukkas Group, had taken off five minutes earlier from the HAL Airport before it crashed into the Gowdanapalya lake in Padmanabhanagar, about a kilometre from the residence of the former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda. There were no survivors.
The victims, Sunil Joseph (37) from Ponkunnam near Ernakulam in Kerala, Mohammed Shabeer (27) of Royapettah in Chennai, Santhosh Kumar of Patna, Bihar, and Shanmugam of Tamil Nadu, were all licensed pilots, according to Deputy Commissioner of Police (South) Alok Kumar. The aircraft was piloted by Flying Officer Santhosh Kumar while Shanmugam was the co-pilot. Sunil Joseph, as Krishna Prashanth of the Jakkur Flying Club told The Hindu, was the latter’s senior at the Thiruvananthapuram Flying School. He was trained in the United States.
The four had taken off with the aircraft from the Jakkur Flying Club hangar, fuelled it at the HAL Airport and were headed for Kochi. The Italian-made Vulcanair Partenavia (P-68C) took off from HAL Airport at 3.35 p.m. but within five minutes the pilot radioed the Air Traffic Control (ATC) about a technical snag and wanted to return immediately. Apparently, he had complained about bad weather. However, the ATC lost track of the aircraft. The plane had disappeared from the radar. The ATC despatched a helicopter to search for the aircraft but then it received a call from the police control room informing about the crash.
Flying low, the aircraft had hit a coconut palm before it nosedived and fell upside down into the lakebed. The aircraft’s front wheel got detached and fell on the terrace of a house close by. Jagdish, a businessman who was an eyewitness, told The Hindu that he saw the aircraft wobbling as it flew over a school before hitting the tree. “I feared that it had crashed into a building next to the tree. We found it stuck deep in the marshy lake.”
A spokesman of the Joy Alukkas Group said the aircraft was to pick up the group chairman, Joy Alukka, from Kochi and take him to Thiruvananthapuram to attend a function.
The airplane was purchased eight months ago to take Mr. Alukka to the group’s branches spread across the country.
Soon after the crash, Fire and Emergency Services personnel from the Banashankari Station were at the spot to shift Shanmugam, the lone survivor, to a nearby hospital. But he was declared brought dead. The personnel retrieved personal baggage, aircraft documents and pilot licence copies from the wreckage.
The crash site and the terrace on which the aircraft wheel fell were cordoned off. The police had a tough time keeping the onlookers at bay. Many climbed rooftops surrounding the lake to get a better view of the accident.
Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Fire Services) T. Suneel Kumar said the ATC and Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) officials would inspect the crash site to procure the black box to determine the cause of the crash.
Registered as a private aircraft with number “VT-JOY,” the ill-fated P-68C was imported by the Kochi-based Joy Alukkas Traders (India) Private Ltd. The twin-engine, high wing aircraft with fixed landing gear was built in 2005.
The aircraft is designed with good handling characteristics, particularly at low speeds and in the event of engine failure. Although the cause of Saturday’s accident was not immediately known, the aircraft design shows that the forward position of the pilot in relation to the wing provides good rearward visibility.