Two pilots and eight crew members of a Jet Airways flight were suspended on Saturday after 14 passengers sustained injuries when emergency evacuation was carried out following a suspected fire in the aircraft in Mumbai.
After a preliminary probe, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation indicated "serious procedural lapses" in the emergency procedures carried out on Friday night by the cockpit and cabin crew, took them off duty and later suspended them. Those suspended included both the pilots, including the commander, four cabin crew members and four additional cabin crew members.
"The preliminary fact-finding by the DGCA has indicated serious procedural lapses in dealing with the emergency and evacuation situation as per the existing procedures laid down in aircraft rules and regulations by the operating aircraft crew members of the Jet Airways flight 9W2302," an official statement said.
The DGCA has removed the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the Digital Flight Data Recorder to analyse recordings of voices and other parameters of the Boeing 737 aircraft. Jet Airways, however, maintained that the crew of the Mumbai-Chennai flight "initiated a precautionary evacuation on the taxiway due to a suspected fire around the left engine.
"The precautionary evacuation was carried out in the interest of safety of the guests and the crew. The crew carried out the evacuation in accordance with standard operating procedures. Subsequent inspection of the engine has indicated that there was no fire," the airline said.
The DGCA said it was treating the incident as 'serious' and added that formal investigations would be carried out by a team comprising the director of air safety, Mumbai, a flight operation inspector and cabin safety in-charge of DGCA.
The regulator has also called for a meeting of the heads of training of all airlines to review the training procedures of cabin and flight crews, particularly in emergency and evacuation procedures.
As many as 141 passengers, including an infant, on board were deplaned using emergency chutes and services after the pilot reported fire in one of the aircraft's engine when it was on the taxiway for take-off. As there was a sudden surge of passengers during evacuation, over 25 of them received injuries.
The airline said it had made alternative travel arrangements on Friday night itself by deploying an additional aircraft that carried 117 passengers to Chennai. Eight passengers, who were discharged from hospital on Saturday morning, were also sent to Chennai.
Jency, a passenger, told reporters in Chennai that everyone had panicked when the incident occurred. "You know, we were all asked to jump from the wing side. Just because people jumped from the wing side, and it is too high, many were injured. There were many old people".
Another passenger, Amit Mitra, said the crew members were asking "a woman to jump from a height of 22 feet. They were saying jump, jump right now, vacate the plane. What is this? Is this a plane or a bus?"
After its initial investigation, the DGCA said when the aircraft was taxiing, an additional crew member, travelling as a passenger, apparently observed fire on the left engine and informed another ACM. The second ACM immediately contacted the Captain, who informed the cabin crew assigned for the left door and asked them to immediately confirm the fire and report.
She also confirmed the same to the Captain. On receiving the confirmation, the Captain pulled the fire handles for left engine, right engine and the Auxiliary Power Unit. However, "he did not discharge any of the fire bottles" and ordered evacuation from the aircraft, the DGCA noted.
The emergency exit and escape chutes and slides on front, back and over the wings were immediately deployed and emergency procedures adopted with fire tenders and rescue services reaching the site.
After the evacuation was over, DGCA teams inspected the aircraft during the night but observed no fire or smoke in the engine area. "Both the engines were checked and boroscope inspection was carried out. No abnormality was observed in the engines and its systems," the DGCA said.