Mystery US plane forced to land in Mumbai 7/31/2006 11:43:07 PM
- By Our Special Correspondents
New Delhi/Mumbai, July 31: An "Atlas Air" aircraft flying in from the Kenyan capital Nairobi was ordered by the Indian Air Force to land at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport after it aroused suspicion in the minds of Indian authorities. The aircraft landed at Mumbai airport at 3 am on Monday in mysterious circumstances.
According to the defence ministry, the aircraft initially transmitted a message to Mumbai airport that it was a United States Air Force Boeing 747 flying from Nairobi to Hong Kong and that it wished to enter Indian airspace. The IAF was soon intimated of this request by the Mumbai Movement Liaison Unit at Mumbai airport. The IAF, however, did not accord permission.
But the aircraft soon reportedly transmitted a message that it was, in fact, a civil-registered aircraft and again repeated its request. Following this, the IAF’s duty officer (South-Western Air Command) called Mumbai airport at about 1 am informing the airport authorities that he was refusing clearance to this aircraft due to the suspicious change in aircraft particulars from military to civil. At about 2 am, the IAF ordered the aircraft to land at Mumbai to verify its antecedents. The aircraft then landed shortly after 3 am.
An IAF press statement said: "The IAF was called last night at about 10.05 pm to confirm clearance for a US Air Force Boeing 747 aircraft flying from Nairobi to Hong Kong. Later, at 11 pm, Mumbai Movement Liaison Centre called to inform that the aircraft was now coming as a civil registered aircraft operated by Atlas Air, and had obtained DGCA clearance, and asked for operation room advice."
Authorities at Mumbai airport soon confirmed that it was indeed a civil registered aircraft. The pilot of the aircraft is reported to have explained that there was a "mix-up" on the part of the Nairobi air traffic control (ATC) in forwarding the aircraft particulars.
Mumbai airport sources said the aircraft was empty and was not carrying any cargo or passengers. According to the sources, there were four people on board the aircraft — the pilot, co-pilot and two crew members. However, there was no official confirmation of this, either by the IAF or Mumbai airport authorities.
Throughout Monday, personnel belonging to the IAF, Intelligence Bureau and Directorate General of Civil Aviation are believed to have questioned the pilot on the suspicious nature of the flight. According to defence ministry officials, Atlas Air is also known to ferry cargo for the US Army, and this added to the suspicions of the authorities. But the pilot is believed to have told the Indian authorities that the plane code and flight path had not been properly transmitted due to the error of the Nairobi ATC authorities.
Mumbai airport sources confirmed that the aircraft had not taken off from Mumbai till late on Monday evening. Both IAF and civil aviation ministry officials in New Delhi were tight-lipped about the developments. However, the defence ministry said on a statement issued on Monday evening that the aircraft was still in Mumbai and "is yet to file its further flight plan".