TAMIL NADU

Narrow escape for air passengers

By K.V. Subramanya and

K. Satyamurty

BANGALORE, AUG. 21. As many as 268 people on board a Kuala Lumpur-bound Airbus-330 of Malaysian Airlines had a miraculous escape when the aircraft veered off the runway and got stuck in the soft ground at the Bangalore airport at 1 a.m. today. Following the incident, air traffic at the airport was paralysed for six hours. Arrival and departure of at least 20 domestic flights were delayed and four incoming flights were diverted to Chennai and Mumbai. However, none of the international flights were affected, sources in the Airports Authority of India said.

While taxiing for departure, the aircraft went off the runway and its rear wheels got caught in the soft soil. The aircraft could not move forward, and the wheels created a burrow, the sources said.

"A problem in the steering column or in the brakes or a pilot error could have resulted in the incident. Only an investigation would throw light on that," sources told The Hindu .

"As the aircraft belongs to another country, the Director-General of Civil Aviation here or the Government cannot order an inquiry. The Malaysian Government may look into it," sources said.

The 260 passengers and eight crew members were safe. The passengers were asked to alight and were put up in hotels. They were flown to their destinations in a special aircraft in the evening, sources said.

After the aircraft was towed away, the runway was opened for traffic at 7.30 a.m. The first flight took off at 8.30 a.m. the sources said.

Flights delayed

Jet Airways said the departure of two of its flights bound for Mumbai and one each for Delhi, Kolkata, Coimbatore, Kochi and Chennai were delayed. Four flights from Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi were also delayed.

According to an Air Deccan spokesman, its flights to Coimbatore, Hyderabad and Hubli-Belgaum were delayed. While Air Sahara said two of its flights to Delhi were delayed, Indian Airlines said four of its flights took off after the scheduled time. However, none of the airlines cancelled any flight.

Passengers hit

Around 1,500 passengers who had checked in were put to hardship because of the delayed flights, the sources said.

Some Delhi-bound businesspersons were seen bitterly complaining that their work would be considerably delayed, it being a weekend.

A family of four travelling to Mumbai said: "The airlines may offer us breakfast but what happens to the connecting flights we may have to miss and the time wasted? Till one hour after we reached the airport, we were not even explained the cause for the delay or the revised time of departure.''

The already-cramped departure lounge and the car park were packed as passengers milled around making anxious enquiries and waiting for announcements. The airlines staff were unprepared to meet this exigency as no similar incident had happened in the recent past.