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Delayed by aircraft mishap, PM finally leaves for Copenhagen

By A Correspondent
Last updated on: December 17, 2009 18:44 IST
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left for Copenhagen to attend the climate change conference after a delay of three hours following a minor mishap involving his aircraft for which an Air India loader has been suspended.

At about 12.30 pm, a cargo van brushed against the PM's special aircraft, causing a dent. Sources said the PM was not in the aircraft when the incident took place.

The Special Protection Group detected a technical snag after the cargo van carrying the PM's luggage hit the aircraft and pressed the alarm button. The SPG control room then alerted the PM and his family about the delay in departure.

B K Dey, secretary (security), and BV Wanchoo, Director of SPG, who were already in the technical area of Palam airport, brought the technical snag to the notice of Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar and Principal Secretary to the PM, TKA Nair. A high-level decision was then taken to delay the PM's departure by four hours.

The SPG asked senior technical staff to assess the situation, and when this failed asked for another special aircraft which was kept as a standby.

The standby Air India aircraft of the same class was got readied that finally took off with the prime minister and his official entourage at 5.45 pm against the scheduled departure time of 2.45 pm.

Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, who rushed to the airport on learning about the incident, said a high-level inquiry has been ordered into the mishap in the technical area of the airport.

He told journalists that both the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and Air India would conduct an inquiry.

The minister said preliminary inquiry has found that the Air India loader was operating the hydraulic lift carrying food items that hit the cargo door of the Air India Boeing 747-400.

"Let the full inquiry report come. Then we will know whether there was anything mala fide in this," he said, adding the loader has good experience of having done work relating to several VVIP aircraft.

"After all we are all human," he said.

This is the second incident involving a VIP aircraft in the country in just over a week.

President Pratibha Patil had a narrow escape on December 9 when the rotor blades of an IAF Mi-17 helicopter in which she was flying hit a shed after landing at the Biju Patnaik Airport in Bhubaneswar.

The accident occurred when the helicopter bringing Patil back from Puri was taxiing to the parking bay after landing.

The chopper's three rotor blades got twisted after it hit an asbestos shed whose roof was ripped off.

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A Correspondent in New Delhi