Mumbai, June 28 (IANS) At least 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 in north-east Mumbai on Thursday afternoon, officials said.
Eyewitnesses said the plane was seen hurtling down in the narrow Jeevdaya Lane area of the Gujarati-dominated suburb and crashed with a deafening roar before breaking into pieces and bursting into flames around 1.15 p.m.
There were two pilots including a woman and as many engineers including a female on board the aircraft, owned by UY Aviation Pv. Ltd, which is owned by Kothari, famed for the Pan Parag gutka brand.
The victims have been identified as Capt. Pradeep Rajput, woman pilot Capt. Mariya, woman aircraft maintenance engineer Surabhi, who was more than two months pregnant, and her colleague, an aircraft junior technician Manish Pandey, both of Indamer Aviation Pvt Ltd.
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.
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 30-year-old King Air C-90, purchased from the Uttar Pradesh government by UY Aviation Pvt Ltd in Mumbai around a couple of years ago.
“Its call sign was VT-UPZ and it was a regular 12-seater on a test flight. The tragedy has 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-based UY Aviation Pvt Ltd had bought the aircraft a few years ago.
Union Minister for Civil Aviation 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 make 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.
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.