Mumbai: It is an urban nightmare. Five people died on Thursday afternoon when a 12-seater chartered aircraft crashed into the boundary wall of a partially-constructed building in Ghatkopar (west) – a jungle of concrete where most buildings are located cheek by jowl. All the four occupants on board, including the two pilots and the two aircraft maintenance engineers, perished. A pedestrian on the ground was also charred to death.
The pilot and the co-pilots have been identified as Captain PS Rajput and Marya Zuberi, respectively. One of the maintenance engineers, Surabhi, was more than two months pregnant. The plane had taken off from the Juhu airstrip on a test flight. It wanted to make an emergency landing at the Mumbai airport after engine trouble was detected on board but crashed some distance away in Ghatkopar. Many people, including former aviation minister Praful Patel lauded the pilot’s efforts in guiding the fateful aircraft away from residential complexes and trying to manoeuver into the under-construction site, hence saving many lives in the process.
The plane, a Beechcraft King Air C 90 turboprop, was sold by UP government in 2014 to a Mumbai-based aviation company run by Gutka baron Dipak Kothari. “The deal was done after the plane had met with an accident in Allahabad,” UP official Avnish Awasthi was quoted by ANI as saying.
The entire area was reeking of aviation fuel after the crash; in fact, the engine, propellers and the landing gear of the aircraft were completely gutted even before the 5 fire brigade tenders could reach the spot. Finally, the fire around the burning wreckage was brought under control by 1.40 pm.
Officials at the construction site said the death toll could have been far higher had the plane crashed minutes earlier. The aircraft crashed around 1.15 pm, when some 30 workers at the construction site had just stepped out for lunch. ‘‘The work expected to resume at 3 pm,” said a site official.It was also a close shave for at least 250 students who were attending classes at the Aruna Manharlal Shah institute of management and research, which is situated right behind the mishap site. Students and public were immediately evacuated. The Mumbai Directorate General of Civil Aviation team visited the spot for a preliminary investigation and a detailed investigation will be carried out by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau. Later in the evening CM Devendra Fadnavis also visited the crash site.
“It is a worrying incident. What were the reasons behind the crash and who is responsible for it needs to be found out,” he said. Pampi Rajput, who lives in the locality, said, “Our apartment is hardly 500 metres away from the site. A man was walking on the road when the plane came crashing down and hit him. We saw the fuel leaking as it crashed and even before we could do anything to save the man, the fuel caught fire. It was very tragic.”