Day after Ghatkopar plane crash, mourning relatives raise questions

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Mumbai, June 29 (IANS) A day after a Beechcraft-built King Air C90 crashed in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar suburb killing five persons, several questions pertaining to the plane’s safety, airworthiness and related issues cropped up here on Friday.

While the Directorate General of Civil Aviation has initiated a preliminary enquiry, the kin of the four killed crew members have raised doubts whether the aircraft was fit to fly in the first place, given its age, past record and the inclement weather conditions on Thursday afternoon.

The 26-year-old aircraft was sold by the Uttar Pradesh Government in 2014 to Mumbai-based UY Aviation Pvt Ltd (UYAPL), belonging to gutka king Deepak Kothari.

Advocate Pradeep Kathuria, the husband of the killed co-pilot, Mariya Zubedi, has reiterated that his wife had mentioned to him that Thursday’s weather conditions were not conducive for a test flight to be conducted for a small aircraft like this.

Independent aviation sources also confirmed to IANS that given the rainy, windy and overcast sky weather experienced in Mumbai and surroundings, such a test flight mission could be “very risky.”

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Meanwhile, the completely charred bodies of all the four victims on board have been identified by their relatives, said a police official.

They are Capt Pradeep Rajput, a former Indian Air Force pilot with over 5,000 hours flying experience, co-pilot Capt Zubedi, with over 1,000 hours to her credit, Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Surabhi Gupta who was more than two months pregnant, and junior aircraft technician Manish Pandey, both employed with Indamer Aviation Pvt Ltd (IAPL), besides pedestrian, Govind Dubey.

Speaking to media persons, the family members raised issues of whether the aircraft was fit for flying or had an “airworthiness certificate”, who authorized the first test flight after a long bout of maintenance works on it, and who cleared the flight despite the prevalent weather conditions.

The grieving family members raised doubts on the aircraft, with Rajput’s relative, Kulvinder Chauhan claiming that Rajput had said that test flight had to be done Thursday itself, though the relatives were against it owing to bad weather conditions.

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Gupta’s father S. P. Gupta said in Haryana’s Sonepat that “it was a ‘sick’ aircraft” as mentioned by his daughter when she spoke with him on Thursday, shortly before going on the flight.

“She had told me that the plane was in a bad condition and ‘sick’. Then, how was such an aircraft permitted to fly and who authorized the flight,” said an emotional Gupta.

A distraught Gopal Dubey, the brother of the pedestrian, who perished after the burning ATF which leaked from the aircraft fell on him, seconds before it crashed, has refused to take his body “till the government or the company officials meet and answer our questions”.

In a statement, the Civil Aviation Ministry had said that the aircraft, VT-UPZ had last flown on February 22, 2008, or more than ten years ago, and later bought by the UYAPL in 2014.

“Thereafter, the aircraft was under maintenance for last one-and-half years. Today (June 28) was the first test flight of the aircraft upon completion of maintenance task before applying for grant of Certificate of Airworthiness/Airworthiness Review Certificate by the DGCA,” the Ministry said in a statement late Thursday evening.

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The aircraft was under maintenance with IAPL, was airborne for an hour and crashed minutes before it was due to land at the Juhu Airport, the UYAPL said in a statement late Thursday.

As per DGCA provisions, prior to any test flight, a ‘fit to fly’ certificate is required to be issued by the authorized certifying staff of the operator or the MRO, the ministry said, adding that the Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau will conduct its detailed investigation into the crash.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra’s Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil on Friday wrote to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis demanding criminal cases to be lodged against aircraft owner Kothari.

He also sought suspension of the DGCA official concerned for negligence leading to the tragedy, especially since it was permitted to undertake a test flight despite adverse weather conditions over the city.



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