New Delhi: The first call that Rahul Gandhi received after his flight scare before landing in Karnataka yesterday was from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress sources say. The small aircraft that the Congress president was travelling in developed a snag and went into "free fall" while shaking violently, a party leader who was with him has told the police.
PM Modi reportedly asked Rahul Gandhi whether he was fine, which signaled that the government was not taking the incident lightly. The aviation regulator has been pressed into action; even before sending a team, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said the problem was a malfunctioning autopilot that is "not uncommon".
But Congress sources say there is much more to it, and it was clear to Rahul Gandhi, who has a commercial pilot's license.
"The rudder was malfunctioning," said party sources, adding that their chief could tell as he stood next to the pilots, "calm and composed and trying to save the situation".
Rahul Gandhi has the highest level of protection and is guarded by Special Protection Group commandos.
In a written complaint to the Karnataka police chief, a key Rahul Gandhi aide Kaushal Vidyarthee has said that around 10.45 am, the VT- AVH Falcon 2000 dived around 500 metres, tipped sharply and "violently shuddered" even though the weather was clear, "sunny and not windy".
The pilots were able to land the plane at Hubli airport but only on the third attempt. The "suspicious and faulty performance" raises "serious questions related to intentional tampering with the aircraft cannot also be brushed aside and are required to be addressed and investigated," Mr Vidyarthee wrote, describing a "particularly frightening and uncommon" experience had left the passengers "with a lot of anxiety and distress and positively fearing for their lives
"It was snag of autopilot mode and pilot shifted to manual mode and landed safely," said BS Bhullar, who heads the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
The pilot, who has flown the Congress chief before, will be questioned, says the police chief, who has asked the aviation regulator for a report.