Mumbai, June 28 (IANS) Five persons, including a pregnant engineer and a pedestrian, were killed and three others injured when a small private plane belonging to gutka baron Deepak Kothari crashed in the thickly populated suburb of Ghatkopar here on Thursday, officials said.
Eyewitnesses said the plane was seen hurtling down in the narrow Jeevdaya Lane area of the Gujarati-dominated suburb in north-east Mumbai and crashed with a deafening roar before breaking into pieces and bursting into flames around 1.15 p.m.
There were two pilots and two engineers, including one woman each, on board the aircraft, owned by UY Aviation Pvt Ltd (UYAPL).
The Mumbai-based company is owned by Kothari, famed for the Pan Parag gutka brand.
The victims have been identified as Capt Pradeep Rajput, with over 5,000 hours of flying experience, and Capt Mariya Zuberi, who was formerly with Jet Airways, said a UYAPL statement.
The others on board were aircraft maintenance engineer Surabhi, who was more than two months pregnant, and her colleague, aircraft junior technician Manish Pandey, both employees of Indamer Aviation Pvt Ltd (IAPL).
The aircraft, under maintenance with IAPL, was airborne on a test flight for an hour and was preparing to land at Juhu Airport when the accident occurred, said the company. It was slated to start regular operations soon.
The fuselage had broken into several pieces and one piece was recovered at least 50 metres away while some other portions of the plane were seen burning in thick black smoke in the premises of an under-construction building. The fire was brought under control within half hour by the fire brigade.
Later this evening, the co-pilot’s husband and lawyer Prabhast Kathuria said his wife Capt Maria had warned that the inclement weather was not suited for the test flight, but ignoring her advice, the flight was undertaken. He demanded a thorough probe into the matter.
The aircraft’s Flight Data Recorder or Black Box was retrieved.
A passerby, Govind Pandit, was burnt fatally when some burning fuel from the aircraft fell on him, said an eyewitness who was among the first to reach the spot.
The cause of the crash is not known and it occurred in the compound of the under construction Jagruti apartments, thereby averting a potentially major disaster.
There are usually at least four dozen labourers working on the premises but they had taken a lunch break when the aircraft crashed, creating a crater by its impact.
Aviation expert and Executive Airways Managing Director Pradeep Thampi said the aircraft was a 26-year-old King Air C-90, purchased from the Uttar Pradesh government by UYAPL around a couple of years ago.
“Its call sign was VT-UPZ and it was a regular five-seater on a test flight. The tragedy claimed the pilot, co-pilot and two engineers. We cannot say immediately what may have led to the sudden crash,” Thampi told IANS.
An Uttar Pradesh government spokesperson confirmed that the Mumbai company had bought the aircraft a few years ago.
Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu, who hails from Mumbai, expressed “deep shock” over the tragedy and directed the ministry officials concerned to rush to the accident site and provide all assistance possible.
Prabhu said he has ordered the Director-General of Civil Aviation to conduct an investigation into the crash. The Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau will undertake the detailed probe.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Police Commissioner Datta Padsalgikar, BJP MP Kirit Somaiya, Congress MLA Naseem Khan and others visited the spot and the hospital where the injured were admitted.
Khan has demanded a probe into how the small aircraft managed to get in the funnel way of the country’s busiest Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport from where commercial flights take off or land almost continuously.
Meanwhile, the condition of three locals injured in the incident is reported to be stable in the Rajawadi Hospital. They have been identified as Luvkush Kumar, 21, Naresh Kumar Nishad, 24 and Prashant Mahankal, 23.
UYAPL said its team was at the crash site and they were in touch with the DGCA, police and families of the deceased.
Since this afternoon, hordes of people made a beeline to the crash site. The security agencies a tough time controlling them as they shot videos or took selfies.