Panic at Delhi airport as pilot on flight to Kandahar 'mistakenly' issues

Security officials at Delhi airport were panicked on Saturday after the pilot of a Kandahar-bound flight parked on the tarmac issued a “hijack alert” to Air Traffic Controllers (ATC). The pilot later told officials he had pushed the aircraft’s panic button “by mistake”.

Following the alert, security agencies said they towed the aircraft to a secluded bay and scanned it again. The flight, which had 123 passengers on board, took off for Afghanistan after a delay of over 90 minutes once it was established there was no threat.

A senior officer deployed at the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport confirmed that a “transponder code”, a silent alert which enables pilots to alert the ATC in case of a hijack situation, was received around 3.30pm.

“At the time of the alert, the aircraft was parked at the apron. The moment the alert was generated, our ground radars highlighted Ariana Afghan flight FG 312. The team then conveyed the alert to the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which guards the airport, and to the National Security Guards (NSG) and the Delhi Police. However, before any action could take place on the ground, the pilot informed the ATC that the alert had been issued by mistake,” the officer, who is not authorised to speak to media, said.

Confirming the incident, deputy commissioner of police (IGI airport) Sanjay Bhatia said that their anti-terror teams had been put on alert. “Basic arrangements were made according to the standard operating procedures, but the pilot of the aircraft called back the emergency. However, taking necessary precautions, the flight was held back and all the passengers were frisked again. The luggage was pulled out and scanned all over again. The flight, originally scheduled to take off at 3.30pm, finally took off by 5.09pm with all 123 passengers on board,” Bhatia said.

An officer from Delhi’s ATC said that every aircraft has codes for emergencies like hijackings, communication (radio) failures and other situations. “The moment the transponder releases any of these codes, the radar highlights that particular plane and ground controllers are silently alerted,” the officer added, requesting anonymity.

The incident was also reported to the Intelligence Bureau and other concerned agencies, officials said. A senior officer, who did not wished to be named, said the Directorate of Civil Aviation had conveyed the matter to the concerned department in Afghanistan to look into.

Emails sent to Ariana Afghan Airlines on the matter remained unanswered till late Saturday.

First Published: Nov 10, 2018 23:09 IST