Sunday, July 30, 2017

Mumbai boy with love for French flew Kanchenjunga

Mumbai: He was a "boy from Bandra" with a fascination for French language, but couldn't really pull off its airy and guttural sounds. That was enough fodder for Capt Joe D'Souza's Air India pilot buddies who mish-mashed the French word "pourquoi" (meaning, why) with his Goan accent to nickname him "Poorkey". In 1966, Poorkey's Boeing 707 crashed into Mont Blanc, along the French border, and he rests there forever.
"They never found his body," recalled Capt Ayodh Kapur (92), who joined Air India in 1944. He doesn't recollect much about the Air India 'Malabar Princess' that crashed into Mont Blanc in 1950, except that the captain was British. But he does remember the 1966 Air India Kanchenjunga crash as his friend Joe D'Souza was its captain. "In summer, when the snow melted, they did find a couple of bodies that had washed downstream,'' he said.
The bodies were beyond recognition. "I don't think the remains were flown to India... I think the bodies they had found were of some foreigners who were on board,'' he added. The aircraft was on a Bombay to London flight .
"I was at the Bombay airport to operate a Boeing 707 flight when I heard about the crash,'' he says. And when asked what did he do when he heard the news, he says: "Nothing. I got on the aircraft and flew to Hong Kong.'' There was grief for sure. "We had done our flying training together at the Bombay flying club, we played cricket for the Tata team,'' he says remembering the deceased pilot who "had a little hangup about the French language, but only spoke a few french words''. "I think he was just married when the crash took place," he says.
Those days pilots earned a salary of Rs 825, which Capt Kapur says was not a big sum as the rent for his Bandra flat on St Leo road itself cost Rs 400. In the later years, Capt Kapur, who was a qualified engineer and a pilot, went on to fly the jumbo jet. The Boeing 707 was the first jet airliner to fly out of Boeing's stable and the then prosperous Air India was one of the few airlines in the world to have these jets in its fleet. "We were proud pilots to fly the big jet (Boeing 707). Not many airlines had jets in those days,'' says Capt Kapur, who was appointed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation as an airsafety expert post retirement from AI. "I don't recall well, but I think he flew low and descended into the clouds," he says, speaking about the 1966 crash.
30/07/17 Times of India