It has been a bad year for India’s burgeoning aviation industry. Between April 19th and May 25th, the country suffered 5 air crashes in which a total of 37 people have tragically lost their lives.A commander in India’s aviation ministry noted that while a single large plane crash could have meant a much higher number of casualties – such as the crash of an Indian 737 a year ago that resulted in 158 people perishing – the regularity of aircraft crashes in India over the last month is “alarming.”
The alarm has caused the aviation industry to call for a strengthening of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the regulatory mechanism that India has recently made plans to bolster to avoid downgrading by the U.S. FAA. According to the India Times, the DGCA is in such weak form that unless a strong civil aviation authority takes its place soon, there’s not much hope for the situation.
Timeline of the Recent Crashes
April 19th, 2011: Mi-172 helicopter bursts into flames and crashes seconds before landing in Tawang, 18 lost lives
April 30th, 2011: EuroCopter crashes on its way from Tawang to Itanagar with Chief Minister Dorji Khandu on board, 5 lost lives
May 4th, 2011: Cessna Caravan crash lands in Mizoram, 9 injured
May 14th, 2011: BSF Chetak helicopter crashes in Rajasthan, 4 lost lives
May 25th, 2011: Chartered PC-12 prop-plane being used as an air ambulance crashes in Faridabad, 10 lost lives
Indian Air Ambulance Stopped by “Wall of Air”
The “Pilates” PC-12 that crashed last week had, according to observations by IGI air traffic control, encountered such strong winds at its altitude of 24,000 feet, that the plane became unable to move. An airport official described the incident as “hitting a wall” in the air.
The pilot had reported bad weather, and a dust storm was raging outside of IGI airport. Suddenly, the plane’s blip on the radar indicated that the air ambulance had literally stopped moving in the air. As controllers tried to contact the pilot, the dust storm outside the airport reached speeds of 60kph.
A PC-12, the type of prop plane that crashed after being stopped by a “wall of air” according to investigators.
According to the India Times, “highly placed sources” conjectured that the wind was so strong that the aircraft was unable to continue flying. ATC officials were reportedly worried about the aircraft for approximately 10 minutes, before the 9-seater aircraft crashed into a house in a densely populated residential area outside New Delhi. 10 people were killed in the crash, including 7 people who were on board and 3 people who were inside the house at the time. The plane’s fuselage broke into two pieces and charred part of the house, with the tail landing on the roof and the engine landing in a nearby alley.
It has not yet been said whether other issues, such as aircraft maintenance factors, could have contributed to the crash of the air ambulance. The investigation is proving to be a blind case for investigators, as the aircraft was unequipped with cockpit voice and flight data recorders, and the taped ATC conversations do not provide any further clues as to what may have happened.
Changes in the Aviation Industry
Because of the crashes, Aviation Ministry officials set up an independent accident investigation panel to look into all future air accidents. This was a job that was formerly being performed by the country’s national aviation regulator, the DGCA, but the recent spate of air crashes in the country has cast serious doubts on whether the DGCA has been doing its job well. Nevertheless, the new specialized investigation panel will be composed of current DGCA members.
The DGCA has also made plans to look into the oversight system, air navigation, flight operations, and training of pilots in India. Under the revised guidelines, pre-flight health checks for pilots are now mandatory.
These changes went into effect mere hours before the latest crash, involving the chartered PC-12.
Our thoughts at Air Ambulance Weekly are with the families of those who lost their lives in these tragic air crashes. We hope the recent changes being made by India’s aviation regulators will help to prevent events like these from occurring in the future.