A tragedy was avoided this week after an Air India flight and a Vistara aircraft carrying more than 100 fliers were about to collide mid-air. The two aircraft came as close as 100 feet before the collision was avoided, a Times of India report revealed. The incident took place over Mumbai on February 7 at 8 pm.
The incident has been deemed as the most serious one of its kind in recent times by experts. According to the TOI report, the two aircraft — Air India's Airbus A-319 flying from Mumbai to Bhopal as AI 631 and Vistara's A-320 Neo headed to Pune from Delhi as UK 997 — were headed in opposite directions, speeding towards each other moments before the flights avoided the midair crash.
Sources said the Vistara flight was assigned a flight level of 29,000 feet, but came down to 27,100 feet, which brought the two planes within a vertical separation of just 100 feet. Their proximity set off traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) alarms in the cockpits of the two flights, thus helping the pilots avoid the crash.
"At one point, AI 631 and UK 997 were 100 feet apart vertically and 2.8km laterally apart. They were just seconds away from each other. This is the most serious airport (accident) or near-miss in recent times," a source revealed.
Following the scary encounter, a Vistara spokesperson issued a statement explaining the incident. "The safety of our customers and staff is of paramount importance to us and at Vistara we diligently follow all the safety regulations and guidelines. In this particular incident, the resolution advisory (RA) got triggered due to conflicting traffic. Our pilot followed the SOP (standard operating procedure) to avoid it and carried out an uneventful landing. The matter is under investigation by relevant authorities," said the statement.
A senior DGCA official said this was a "serious" near-miss, and that the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) was probing it.
The TOI report quoted a senior AI official as saying: "This was indeed a very close call. Our crew was acting just as it should have. There must have been some serious confusion between air traffic control and Vistara pilots that led to this."
Over 150 passengers were on board the Vistara flight. The passenger count for the Air India flight is as yet unknown.
According to Times Now, this is the second "airprox" incident to have been reported in the past 15 days. On January 28, two flights — from IndiGo and Emirates — breached the minimum distance. This incident took place in the skies of Maharashtra as well, and was reported over Nagpur.
The IndiGo flight was headed from Hyderabad to Raipur while the Emirates flight was over the Indian skies during its international journey from Singapore to Dubai.
India witnessed one of the worst midair collisions when two airliners collided, killing everyone on board in 1996. The incident took place in the village of Charkhi Dadri and is dubbed as the 1996 Charkhi Dadri mid-air collision.
According to a New York Times report, a total of 351 people were on board the Kazak Airlines and Saudi Arabian Airlines that collided. Considering the death toll, the 1996 crash is the third-deadliest air crash and is called the worst mid-air collision in aviation history.