Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Two passengers found smoking onboard Air India flight from Male to Mumbai

Mumbai: Two passengers were caught smoking on an Air India flight from Male to Mumbai on Monday.

The incident happened on board flight AI-268 which had departed Male at 12.45 pm (local time). About 45-minutes before landing, a passenger went into the aircraft lavatory and opened the door only to find smoke in it, said a source. The cabin crew were alerted and they managed to identify and accost two passengers who had earlier used the same lavatory. “The two passengers did not create a ruckus or protest when they were asked to hand over their cigarettes and passports,” the source said. “The smell of smoke from the lavatory spread into the passenger cabin as well,” the source added. On landing the passengers were handed over to the airline security personnel.

Air India security and the concerned departments are looking into this and will follow due course of action, said an Air India spokesperson. The official did not comment on whether the airline had filed a police case against the passenger.

Fire is the most hazardous situation a flight crew can be faced with. “Fire and smoke spread rapidly inside the pressurized cabin of an aircraft. Even a minor fire left undetected for a few minutes can endanger the safety of aircraft and passengers, especially if it breaks out when the aircraft is at cruising altitudes. It would take atleast 20-30 minutes to descend and carry out an emergency landing and by then passengers, crew could die of carbon monoxide poisoning,” said a senior airline commander, requesting anonymity.

In July 1973, pilots of a Brazilian carrier, Varig Airlines flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris were forced to carry out an emergency landing in a field close to Orly airport, Paris after a fire broke in a rear lavatory of the aircraft. As smoke from the fire filled the passenger cabin of the Boeing 707 aircraft, the crew members moved to the front of the aircraft. But many passengers in the rear inhaled the smoke and by the time the aircraft landed many were already dead due to carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation. Of the 134 passengers on board, 123 died. The investigation report revealed that the probable cause of the lavatory fire was a lit cigarette that was accidentally thrown into the bin which set the waste in it on fire. In December 1982, a cigarette fire broke out onboard China Northwest Airlines flight flying from Changsha, in Hunan, China to Guangzhou. The aircraft landed and stopped on the runway but by then the fire had killed 25 passengers.

In India, smoking is banned onboard flights under the Indian Aircraft Rules, 1937. Passengers who `commit any act likely to imperil the safety of an aircraft or its passengers or crew’ could be punished with imprisonment for upto two years or with fine upto Rs 10 lakh or both. Smoking on board also falls into the purview of `unruly/disruptive passenger behaviour' and could invite a life-time ban.

But airlines in India have been lax in enforcing the law. In September 2017, an Air India passenger onboard a flight from Ranchi to Delhi turned unruly after he was asked to exit the aircraft lavatory by the crew who were alerted to smoke and smell of cigarettes. The passenger got into an argument with the crew and threatened to light up another cigarette, according to media reports. The pilots radioed the Delhi air traffic control about the incident and on landing, he was escorted out of the aircraft by CISF security personnel. However the airline was reluctant to file a police complaint. A written apology was taken from the passenger and he was let off.

25/01/22 Manju V/Times of India

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