KOLKATA: A deluge and a bizarre accident possibly caused by a plane hitting a jackal plunged Kolkata airport into chaos on Wednesday afternoon, leading to suspension of operations for about two hours and throwing flight schedules haywire till late evening.
Six flights — of IndiGo Airlines, Jet Airways and SpiceJet — were lined up for landing around noon when a downpour significantly brought down visibility. The situation turned all the more tricky because the primary runway, which has the instrument landing system (ILS) to guide pilots in poor visibility, was not in operation. Airport authorities had issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM) earlier in the day, declaring the primary runway would be shut from 10am to 4pm for repairs and operations would be shifted to the secondary runway. But with the ILS in the secondary runway yet to be operational, pilots had to land visually without any aid.
Following the missed approaches, airport officials decided to open the primary runway. Till then, all departing flights were put on hold and incoming flights asked to hover over the city. But even after operations shifted to the ILS-enabled runway, visibility remained poor and a couple of flights aborted landing to play safe.
Officials yet to identify flight that hit animal
The weather finally improved around 12.45pm. Thereafter, flights hovering for nearly an hour were brought in to land. Those scheduled for takeoff were given the nod. "Altogether, the delay was for about an hour. By the time the weather cleared, those in charge of flight schedules were reeling," an airline official said. An IndiGo flight was diverted to Bhubaneswar.
Around 2.45pm, when operations were just limping back to normal, takeoffs and landings were suspended once again after the pilot of a departing Air India flight to Silchar reported an animal carcass at the northern end of the runway. Before it, a Jet Airways flight had taken off for Guwahati but hadn't reported any incident.
By the time the air traffic control tower learnt about the incident, the Jet Airways flight to Patna was already on the roll. Its pilot spotted the mess, abandoned takeoff and returned to the parking bay. Six flights that were approaching to land were asked to hover and five flights queuing for takeoff were put on hold.
Airport officials said the staff rushed to the spot and found a carcass that could either belong to a jackal or a dog. "A departing plane had obviously hit it. While removing the carcass was a priority as no operations could happen till the runway was clear, it was also important to identify the aircraft that had hit the animal as its landing gear could have been damage by the high velocity impact," the official said.
However, when ATC contacted the Guwahati-bound Jet Airways flight and other aircraft that had departed prior to it, they said they were not aware of hitting anything while taking off.
Even after all the planes landed at their respective destinations, they did not report any damage to the landing gear or remnants of flesh or blood on the wheel. "Which plane actually killed the animal is a mystery," an airport official said. Operations resumed after an hour but the consequent delays lasted till late evening.