London, Oct 16: Nearly 110 passengers on an Air India flight from Ahmedabad to London were stranded for eight hours inside the aircraft at Gatwick Airport today after the plane was diverted from nearby Heathrow airport due to fog.
Frayed tempers and high drama was witnessed on board the Ahmedabad-Mumbai-London flight( AI 131) which was scheduled to land at 7.30 AM local time at London's Heathrow airport but the plane could not complete its journey because it was diverted to Gatwick where it reached 30 minutes later. There were 109 passengers on the plane which was operated by a crew of 16 on board.
Matters came to head when angry passengers insisted on leaving the aircraft and the Sussex police was called in to maintain peace. The distance from Gatwick to Hetahrow is about 75 km.
Irate passengers complained of lack of attention as the aircraft stood on the tarmac and were upset why they were not allowed to disembark.Passengers said there was no communication from the crew and the mood on the plane was becoming heated as they became angry.A spokesman for Gatwick airport said the airline was waiting for a replacement crew before the flight could complete its journey.
The Sussex Police were called to the flight to prevent a breach of the peace.The flight finally took off from Gatwick at around 4.30 PM and landed at Heathrow.
An Air India spokesperson in Delhi said that after the flight landed at Gatwick, the Flight Duty Time Limitation (FDTL) of the crew, which took the flight to London from India, came into force and a new set of crew was required to take the flight back to Heathrow.
The return flight from London to Mumbai( AI 130) has been delayed by about 10 hours.The spokesperson said that during the flight's stay at Gatwick, passengers were asked to stay inside the aircraft as the flight was supposed to get clearance to fly any moment the weather at Heathrow was cleared.
He said the AI plane was among five flights diverted to Gatwick airport dur to bad weather and poor visibility. A passenger Pravin Salunke, DIG(CBI) said friends and relatives of the travellers on the plane informed the stranded passengers that all flights were landing in Heathrow except for the AI flight.
Salunke said the passengers were told by the pilot that the plane was being diverted because of fog and weather conditions in Heathrow and that a new crew was awaited. Another passenger said the pilot told the travellers that the aircraft cannot land because of the fog. While Air India cited FDTL issues, European Union regulations requires that a new crew would have to take the aircraft from Gatwick to Heathrow.
At one stage, the passengers were reportedly told that the new crew while on its way to Gatwick had lost its way. Rahul Joglekar, a reporter for BBC World Service on the flight, said passengers had become restless at being prevented from leaving the aircraft at Gatwick.
Speaking from inside the aircraft, Joglekar said: “Tempers are running high.It has been over eight hours that we are stranded in the aircraft.
We haven't received a meal and there has been no official word at all.”He added: “There are a few diabetic patients on board and few children; another passenger's wife is seven months pregnant.It is getting quite worrying.One angry passenger left the aircraft and had to be brought back by the police since we were told it was illegal to leave the aircraft."