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According to the complaint, filed by Rahul’s close aide Kaushal K Vidyarthee, who was travelling with him, the aircraft suddenly tilted heavily on the left side and the altitude dipped steeply, combined with violent shuddering of the plane’s body, during the course of the flight.
“It was unusual given that the weather outside was sunny and normal,” the complaint, filed with Karnataka IG and DG Neelamani Raju, stated and added that the clanking noise was audible from one side of the plane throughout the shuddering of the aircraft body and they claimed that the auto-pilot of the aircraft was not functioning.
Subsequently, an FIR was registered at the Hubballi Gokul Road police station by KPCC general secretary Shakir Sanadi, holding pilots of the aircraft responsible for the incident.
The complainant maintained that the aircraft landed at the Hubballi airport on the third attempt as two earlier attempts had failed. During landing also, the plane was shaking and made unusual audible sounds. “The whole flight experience left all of us with anxiety and distress and positively fearing for their life. The crew was also petrified and admitted the plight was particularly frightening and uncommon,” Vidyarthee said in the complaint.
“It was apparent from the suspicious and faulty performance of the aircraft that the incident of shuddering and altitude dipping were not natural or weather related but were due to some technical snags of the aircraft. Serious questions related to intentional tampering with the aircraft cannot also be brush aside and are required to be investigated,” he added.
“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… couldn’t believe CP’s composure and calmness as he stood beside pilots trying to save the situation,” tweeted Vidyarthee.
The 10-seater Dassault Falcon 2000 aircraft (VT-AVH) belongs to Ligare Aviation Ltd. But on Thursday it was operated by a Delhi-based chartered company. The twin-engine aircraft departed Delhi at 9.20am. “En route, when the aircraft was at 41,000 feet, the autopilot failed,” said a source. “Since the autopilot disengaged, the pilots took manual control of the aircraft. It landed safely around 11.25am,” the source added.
After the aircraft came to a halt, the pilots informed Rahul about the malfunction that occurred mid-flight. “Gandhi thanked the pilots for handling the situation well and left,” the source said, adding there was no panic reaction from any other passengers.
However, this version of events, coming mainly from aviation sources, is at variance with the complaint that has been filed with the Hubballi police.
Late on Thursday evening, the DGCA ordered the grounding of the aircraft and the crew. The charter company arranged an alternate aircraft to fly Rahul out of Hubballi on Friday. “Air safety norms allow an aircraft with a non-functioning autopilot to fly back to the destination. It’s not a malfunction that would have led to an accident,” a charter operator said.
A senior DGCA official told TOI: “The charter aircraft operator reported the incident to us. It was an autopilot snag because of which the pilot shifted the aircraft to manual mode and landed safely. Autopilot shut down incidents are not uncommon. But any occurrence with a VIP flight is investigated thoroughly and that will be done in this case too.”
Congress sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi called up Rahul to enquire about the incident. The news was kept secret till late evening and only chief minister Siddaramaiah, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun M Kharge, AICC general secretary Karnataka in-charge K C Venugopal were privy to it.