A close call over the Indian Ocean

Rajesh Kurup Mumbai | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on December 27, 2017

In November 2012, a Gulfstream G550 developed a massive engine failure that led to ‘scariest ride’ for passengers, including Ratan Tata

It was the night of November 2, 2012. One of the engines of a Gulfstream G550, flying over the Indian Ocean somewhere between Singapore and Seychelles, stalled. An emergency was declared as the plane diverted, looking for the nearest landmass, if not an airport.

There were several “ifs and buts” with the aircraft flying on one engine, and with chances of the other engine catching fire. The plane could have glided into the water at 2,000 feet per minute. The aircraft flying at 45,000 feet would have hit the water in 20 minutes in case of a rapid decent.

Passengers onboard...

The passengers onboard the Gulfstream Aerospace aircraft were Ratan N Tata, who had earlier in the year announced his retirement as Tata Group Chairman; C Sivasankaran, Chairman of Siva Group and Aircel founder; and Tata Group’s R Venkataramanan (now managing trustee of Tata Trusts). The crew comprised Capt Bob Albecker, Capt Keith West and flight attendant Vitin Karkera.

A letter written by Venkataramanan, three days after the incident, details the scary experience. “The time was about 7 p.m. local time. Just after a couple of hours into the flight, there was a loud noise near the rear end of the plane. The sound kept on coming at quick intervals with increased regularity. There was tremendous turbulence and the flight was quite unsteady. It was only a matter of time that it was concluded that there has been a massive engine failure and one of the engines completely ceased,” read the letter, of which BusinessLine has a copy.

The auxiliary power unit was shutdown as an emergency procedure. According to the letter, the nearest landmark was about 600 nautical miles, which is about 90 minutes of flying, in normal conditions. Flying on one engine meant reduced speed, and the landmass was a good two hours away. The flight attendant showed passengers the position of life-rafts, oxygen masks and life jackets.

The communication systems on the plane, however, remained functional. The letter said that along with emergency messages, Karkera sent one to his family saying it could be his last, while Sivasankaran sent his Gmail account details and password to his son saying, “just in case I don’t ever get to message you”.

Harrowing time

After about 120 minutes of harrowing time, the “scariest ride”, landed safely at Colombo, the letter said.

The prospect of falling into the sea at night, 600 nautical miles from closest habitation isn’t a pleasant proposition as even bodies wouldn’t have been found for days, the letter concludes, but not before stressing the importance of listening to the safety instructions onboardaircraft.

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Published on December 27, 2017
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