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Major plane accident averted

By Y. Mallikarjun and P.Vikram Reddy

Photo: Snaps India

The left propeller of an Air Deccan aircraft caught fire minutes before take off at the Hyderabad airport on Wednesday during an inaugural flight to Vijayawada. The Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, and the BJP president, M. Venkaiah Naidu, MPs and mediapersons, who were on board had a miraculous escape.

HYDERABAD SEPT. 24. A major accident, involving a private aircraft on its inaugural flight carrying the BJP president, M.Venkaiah Naidu, the Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, and the Telugu Desam Parliamentary Party leader, K.Yerrran Naidu, among others, was averted at the Hyderabad airport this morning.

The VIPs had a narrow escape when the ground staff doused the flames emanating from the left engine of the aircraft when it had just started taxiing before takeoff. The maiden flight of Deccan Airways from Hyderabad to Vijayawada, which was flagged off by the Union Minister of State for Urban Development, Bandaru Dattatreya, a few minutes earlier, was immediately aborted.

The presence of mind of Mr.Rudy alerted the VIPs, journalists and others on board to disembark through the emergency exit which the Minister himself opened. The fire occurred around 9.20 a.m. and an alert ground staff put it out with a hand-held fire extinguisher even as the pilot switched off the engine. The others on board the aircraft included the Andhra Pradesh Commercial Taxes Minister, K. Vijayarama Rao, the TDP MP, K. Ram Mohan Rao, four MLAs, including the actor-turned-politician, Kota Srinivasa Rao, and some businessmen.

Soon after disembarking, Mr. Rudy told The Hindu that there was no need for any inquiry as it was a technical snag and not an accident. The Managing Director of Air Deccan, G. R. Gopinath, too, maintained that it was a "technical snag." He said the engine had not caught fire. " It is not a fire in the engine. Fuel vapour leaked and came into contact with the exhaust of one engine and this was immediately put out. Even if such a thing happens in midair, it does not catch fire," he assured.

He said this was not an uncommon occurrence among passenger planes and "our engineers would probe into the cause of technical snag."

The refurbished twin-engine ATR 42 is one of the two aircraft acquired by Air Deccan from the Airbus group and four more would be joining its fleet soon.

The flames were noticed as Mr. Dattatreya was flagging off the inaugural flight. Earlier, the Chief Minister, N.Chandrababu Naidu, Mr. Rudy and Mr.Venkaiah Naidu lit the lamp to mark the inauguration.

Mr.Chandrababu Naidu, however, left the function early to attend the State Assembly, which is in session.

Mr.Rudy, who soon regained his composure, was later seen patting Captain Gopinath and asking him and his team not to worry "as these things do happen."

Even as news was flashed by the electronic media, Mr.Rudy started getting calls from across the country enquiring about his well-being.

One of the calls was from the Union Home Ministry even as he was getting into his car and the Minister was heard saying " nothing has happened. I am fine. There is no accident."

Mr. Yerran Naidu said they had a miraculous escape. Narrating his experience, the TDP's Rajya Sabha member, K. Ram Mohan Rao, who was on board the aircraft, said: " It was shocking. Even as the aircraft was taxiing, Mr. Rudy was the first to notice the flames and immediately shouted at me to rush to the rear and open the door. As I moved ahead, the air-hostess asked us not to worry. In the meantime, Mr.Rudy himself opened the emergency exit".

He wondered how the aircraft was cleared, and felt that they should have been more careful when so many VIPs were travelling.

Describing the accident as "unfortunate," the Chief Minister said that it was for the Union Civil Aviation Ministry to look into the matter.

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