About 185 people on board a Delhi-bound aircraft on Sunday had a close shave as the plane caught fire soon after take-off from the airport here and made an emergency landing minutes later, officials said. Gaurav, one of the passengers told mediapersons, “As the plane was taking off on the runway, we heard peculiar sounds thud, thud and as it became airborne, I saw fire in the engine , I was on the window seat.”
A woman passenger said, “Pilot was assuring the passengers to stay calm.” District Magistrate and senior SP of Patna rushed to the airport and ensured rescue of the passengers from the plane. The Spice Jet aircraft took off at around quarter past noon and, according to Patna District Magistrate Chandrashekhar Singh, local administration began receiving calls soon afterwards that it has caught fire.
"Many people, mostly residents of the nearby Phulwari Sharif locality, began making frantic calls upon watching the plane in flames. Thankfully, all 185 occupants are safe," he told reporters at the airport. Director of Jaiprakash Narayan International Airport, Anchal Prakash, said arrangements were made for the affected passengers' travel to their destination by an alternative plane.
The Spice Jet said in a statement "on takeoff, during rotation, cockpit crew suspected bird hit on engine 01. As a precautionary measure...the captain shut down the affected engine and decided to return to Patna."
"The aircraft landed safely in Patna and the passengers deboarded safely. Post flight inspection showed bird hit, with three fan blades damaged," said the airways. Many passengers shared their experience with media persons, with a mix of horror and relief. "I had come to the airport groggy and dozed off before the plane took off.
Within a few minutes, a judder woke me up. It was only after landing that I realised how lucky I was," recalled a young man.
"The entire plane was trembling. We were petrified and crew members were busy pacifying us. We were initially told that the plane would land at an airstrip in Bihta or Arrah. Thankfully, it landed at the airport itself," said an elderly woman who also showered blessings on the pilot, whom she has not met, for showing presence of mind.
There seemed to be some confusion, though, about the duration for which the plane remained airborne. Airport officials said the emergency landing took place within 10 minutes of the takeoff while many passengers claimed they spent "15-20 minutes" inside the plane.
Safety concerns have always been associated with the airport here, which is surrounded by densely populated localities, including markets selling meat, fish and poultry which often increase the risk of bird hits. On July 17, 2000, the airport had hit the headlines when a Delhi-bound Boeing 737 aircraft, coming from Kolkata, ploughed through a residential colony soon after take-off killing more than 60 people, including six local residents.
The court of inquiry, which was subsequently ordered, said in its report that the runway was too short. Work on shifting the airport from the city to Bihta, about 30 kms here, has since been hanging fire.