New Delhi: A plane taking Rahul Gandhi from Delhi to Karnataka on Thursday for his poll campaign suddenly plunged, listed dangerously to one side and shuddered violently despite clear weather, the Congress has said in a complaint alleging "intentional tampering" of the aircraft and calling for an investigation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi phoned the Congress president, say sources, and the aviation regulator has ordered an inquiry.
- An FIR or First Information Report has been filed against the pilot
- A Congress leader said flight as "particularly frightening and uncommon"
- The plane took off from Delhi around 9.20 am for Karnataka on Thursday
Rahul Gandhi, who holds a commercial pilot's licence, was "calm and composed" as he stood beside the pilots, trying to save the situation, says Congress leader Kaushal Vidyarthee, who was on the flight and has written a complaint to the Karnataka police.
Mr Vidyarthyee described the flight as "particularly frightening and uncommon" and said the entire experience had left the passengers "with a lot of anxiety and distress and positively fearing for their lives". The crew was petrified, he added.
The pilot, who has flown the Congress chief before, will be questioned, says the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, but the party says his name on the First Information Report (FIR) is a mistake.
The regulator says it was a snag in the autopilot mode of the VT- AVH Falcon 2000, which, it asserts, is "not uncommon" even though it happened on a plane ferrying one of the most protected politicians in India with the Special Protection Group (SPG) guarding him 24X7.
"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).
"For any VIP flight, DGCA examines the shutting of the auto-pilot. We shall do here also," he added. A detailed report will be out in two weeks.
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.
Mr Gandhi's plane took off from Delhi around 9.20 am for Karnataka, the party-ruled state where he is leading the Congress's campaign for the May 12 election in the face of an aggressive BJP challenge.
At around 10.45 am, Mr Vidyarthee said, the aircraft suddenly tilted heavily to one side. It lost altitude and there was violent shuddering of the aircraft body though the weather outside was sunny and not windy. A clanking noise was clearly audible from one side of the plane throughout, his letter said, recalling the 40-minute scare.
This morning, there were a deluge of tweets from party leaders expressing concern.