An aircraft carrying External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj from Trivandrum to Mauritius, on her way to South Africa, went incommunicado for 12-14 minutes. This was confirmed by authorities, however, they insist that it would not comprise a 'mid air scare' .
The Mauritius Air traffic control (ATC) room had activated INCERFA, the code used by the aircraft controllers during a phase of uncertainty, when Swaraj's plane crossed over from Indian air space to Male Air Traffic Control, Airports Authority of India confirmed.
INCERFA was activated without allowing a lapse of a stipulated time period of 30 minutes since the aircraft last contacted the ATC. The authorities say Male ATC erred on the side of caution as an Indian Air Force Flight IFC31 was carrying a person with a VIP status.
Swaraj departed from Trivandrum at 2:08 pm for Mauritius. However, IFC 31 could not contact Mauritius ATC after entering its airspace.
A contact was established at 4:44 pm only when the aircraft changed over from Indian airspace to Male ATC.
Later at 4:58 pm, the flight came in contact with Mauritius ATC and subsequently made a safe landing.
However, when pressed further, sources in the AAI did not rule out a failure of onboard communication systems in the IAF plane carrying India's EAM, news agency ANI reported.
The Ministry of External Affairs has not commented on the issue so far.
Swaraj is in South Africa to attend the BRICS and IBSA meets -- the two major groups where India has been playing a major role. She will also meet the top leadership of the country.
An official conversant with the ATC issues over the Indian Ocean region told PTI, the problem in contacting the flight could have arisen due to weak radar coverage as flights have to rely on VHF communication, which have their own set of issues.
The uncertainty phase is the first of the three emergency phases, the other two being the alert phase and the distress phase.
Read Airports Authority of India's full statement:
Indian Air Force Flight IFC31 carrying Ms. Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs departed from Trivandrum at 1408 IST for Mauritius. Aircraft changed over from Indian airspace to Male ATC which then established contact with the aircraft at 1644 IST. However, IFC 31 could not contact Mauritius ATC after entering Mauritius airspace.
Mauritius ATC then activated INCERFA (the uncertainty phase). Later at 1658 IST, IFC 31 came in contact with Mauritius ATC and landed. Mauritius ATC activated INCERFA (uncertainty phase) without allowing the stipulated time period of 30 minutes to lapse from the time when aircraft last contacted ATC. This was perhaps done because the flight was carrying VIP.