Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Video of Amarnath chopper flight shows safety lapses, DGCA grounds two aircraft and derosters pilot

Two helicopters of a charter company that flies pilgrims to Amarnath were grounded by the civil aviation regulator on Tuesday after a damning video clip showed one of the aircraft landing close to a mountainous dirt track amidst mules carrying travelers. Referring to the clip, the director general, civil aviation said that the "helipad" on which the said helicopter landed was not an authorised one.

In the recent past, aviation experts had red flagged numerous safety violations involving helicopter charter flights that transport pilgrims to Amarnath, Kedarnath.

The latest video clip shows a helicopter approaching a dirt track even as mules carrying passengers walk past nonchalantly in a single file. As the helicopter turns and descends towards the dirt track, a person can be heard shouting ``side, side, side”, exhorting the passengers and mules to give away to landing aircraft. The helicopter touches down in clouds of dust, a few feet away from the pilgrims. The area being used as a helipad is strewn with gravel and stones and is not demarcated. TOI on Tuesday shared the said video clip with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

“The incident shown in the video clip is of a place on the route called Mahagunas Pass and not any of the helipads cleared by DGCA,” said Arun Kumar, director general, civil aviation. “The helicopter in the clip seems to be overloaded, doesn't meet the performance standards. The SOPs for crossing a Pass does not seem to have been followed by the pilot,” he added. A DGCA team, consisting of operations, airworthiness and air safety members, has been deputed for investigation of the incident. The team will reach Pahalgam on Wednesday morning, Kumar added.

“The DGCA has taken cognizance of this issue and the helicopter of Heritage Aviation involved in this incident, has already been grounded by air safety due exceedance reported for engine parameters. The involved pilot has also been de-rostered,” said Kumar adding that a second helicopter belonging to the same operator has also been grounded.

Over a month ago, another video clip had surfaced which showed a helicopter with pilgrims carrying out a hard landing in Kedarnath helipad in an apron packed with passengers. Capt Amit Singh, an air safety expert, who shared the clip with TOI said: “In the earlier clip that showed a hard landing in Kedarnath, similar issues were highlighted. Despite DGCA advisories, inspections such blatant violations continue.”

The director general, civil aviation said that the helipads used in Shri Amarnath Yatra are Neelgrath, Pahalgam and Panjtarni. “All these three helipads have been used in the past for many years for the yatra, and this year too they have been cleared after an inspection by the DGCA team, prior to the commencement of yatra operations,” Kumar added.

05/07/22 Manju V/Times of India

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