New Delhi: The Congress on Thursday filed a police complaint after an aircraft carrying party president Rahul Gandhi from Delhi to Hubli in Karnataka “malfunctioned” and made a rough landing, which it said endangered the life of passengers.
In a complaint made to Karnataka police chief Neelmani N Raju that has been accessed by News18, Rahul Gandhi's office stated that several “unexplained technical errors” happened during the course of the two-hour morning flight and demanded a thorough investigation.
At one point, the plane had tilted to one side, as the autopilot mode had failed. However, throughout this time, he remained calm & composed & kept assuring others that they would all safely land in Hubbali: RS Surjewala on a technical snag in the aircraft carrying Rahul Gandhi pic.twitter.com/1KQu2GPWNn
— ANI (@ANI) April 26, 2018
What happened to his plane is a serious case of aviation mechanics failure. A complaint letter has been written to the DGCA to look at all aspects of the matter, including that of possible foul play: RS Surjewala on a technical snag in the aircraft carrying Rahul Gandhi pic.twitter.com/34C59lZGzu— ANI (@ANI) April 26, 2018
Sources in the Congress told CNN-News18 that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called up Gandhi to enquire about his well-being in the afternoon. Gandhi, who is on the seventh leg of campaigning in the state ahead of the Assembly election on May 12, took a chopper from Hubli to Ankola and continued with his scheduled rallies.
Raising the issue of a "possible and intentional tampering" with the aircraft, the complaint says that the plane shuddered violently, tilted to one side, dipped in altitude steeply and made cranking noises throughout. It further says that the autopilot system of the aircraft was not functioning.
Apart from Gandhi, there were three other passengers on the flight. The police complaint says that the plane landed at the Hubli airport only on its third attempt and it shook violently while it did so.
“It is to be stated that the weather outside was sunny, normal and not windy as per the observation of the passengers and as per the forecast of the day,” the complaint letter reads.
“The whole flight experience of the flight left the passengers with a lot of anxiety and stress, and positively fearing for their lives. The crew was also petrified and admitted that the flight was particularly frightening and uncommon,” it adds.
The Congress president’s close aides, who were in the flight with him, tweeted to narrate their experience. Rahul S Ravi said that Gandhi was constantly by the side of the crew during the “crisis”.
Never thought we would make it through what happened in the aircraft today...cant believe how brave RG is...being a pilot himself he was constantly by the side of the crew through the crisis. Respect! @vidyarthee
— Rahul S Ravi (@RahulS_Ravi) April 26, 2018
Another close aide Kaushal K Vidyarthee said he was thankful for being alive and also praised the Congress president’s calmness and composure.
Glad to be in a room and getting some rest....thankful for being alive...never had such a frightening experience in my life...plane went into free fall...couldnt believe CP's composure and calmness as he stood beside pilots trying to save the situation.
— Kaushal K Vidyarthee (@vidyarthee) April 26, 2018
Airport authorities took the pilots of the private aircraft and the cabin crew into custody from Hubli airport for questioning, sources said.
An FIR has been registered against the pilots under sections 287 and 336 of the IPC and section 11 of the Aircraft Act based on a complaint filed by Shakir Sannadhi, the general secretary of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee.
While sections 287 and 336 deal with negligent conduct with respect to machinery and endangering life or personal safety of others respectively, section 11 of the Aircraft Act gives penalty for flying so as to cause danger. The maximum penalty under the sections is six months in jail and a fine.
Rahul Gandhi’s office has also demanded that the private aircraft be grounded at Hubli airport with immediate effect and not be allowed to make another flight till the investigation gets completed.
The complaint stated that the serious questions raised about “intentional tampering” cannot be brushed aside and must be investigated in depth. “It was apparent from the suspicious and the faulty performance of the aircraft that the incidents of shuddering and altitude dipping were not natural or weather-related, but due to technical snags,” the complaint says.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation, which deals with such cases, said in a statement that the operator has reported the incident to us. “As per operator report, it was a snag of the autopilot mode and pilot shifted to manual mode and landed safely. Autopilot shutting down is not uncommon. For any VIP flight, DGCA examines it in detail and we shall do it here also,” it said in a statement.