The 120 passengers onboard a Jet Airways aircraft that met with an accident while landing at Mumbai airport on Thursday night were exposed to further danger as the commander did not opt for emergency evacuation though there was a high risk of the plane catching fire. The aircraft had come to a halt tilting right with the right engine touching the ground. The passengers and eight crew members stayed inside flight 9W 354 from Delhi for close to 40 minutes even as fire engines sprayed foam on the stranded plane. Major sparks were emitted from under the engine as it scraped the ground during landing. Later, they were asked to disembark using a stepladder.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has initiated an inquiry into the incident.
“From the pictures of the accident, it’s evident that during the hard landing, the right-hand main wheel assembly of the aircraft collapsed,” said Capt Mohan Ranganathan, a former member of the government’s Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council. A part of the collapsed wheel assembly pierced through the wing and protruded from its upper end. Wings of an aircraft carry fuel tanks, but luckily for the Jet passengers, the fuel tank of their aircraft was not pierced. From passenger accounts, it is clear that the factors that could cause a fire outbreak, like sparks, were present.
After the right wheel assembly collapsed following touchdown, the speeding aircraft had no structural support and it tilted right so that the right engine grazed the ground. The passengers saw sparks flying. “A fire might have broken out had the fuel tanks been pierced. Since a fire on the wing or fuselage does not generate a warning in the cockpit, the pilots would not have known about it, unless alerted by flight attendants who could have seen it. Hence, the standard operating procedure during such an emergency is to initiate an evacuation,” said Ranganathan. “Fortunately, there was no fire. Otherwise, it could have been a very serious issue,” he added.
In fact, after the tilting Boeing 737 came to a halt, the passengers wondered why they was no emergency evacuation. “The engines and the air-conditioning were switched off. After about 10 minutes, fire tenders approached the aircraft and started spraying what looked like water and foam. We were not sure why they were doing it even as we sat inside. We waited for 40 minutes for everything to be cleared after which they had us disembark using a stepladder,” said passenger S Bhoumik.
Another passenger, who requested anonymity, said travellers were talking about probable oil or fuel leak and a possible fire. “After the plane came to a halt, many stood up to scan the damage. The cabin crew announced that there was nothing to worry and everything was fine,” he added.
But the aviation experts and commanders that TOI spoke to had a different take. “Given the nature of the accident, the passengers should have been evacuated. There is no doubt about that,” said a senior airline commander, requesting anonymity.
Jet Airways in its statement said the flight reported a technical fault with the main landing gear after landing in Mumbai at 9.52pm. “All 120 passengers and 8 crew were safely disembarked and no injuries were reported. Jet Airways’ team provided prompt assistance and care to all the guests,” the airline added.