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Delhi Police Begins Inquiry Into Air India Mid-Air Scuffle

Delhi Police has initiated an inquiry into a mid-air scuffle allegedly between pilots and some crew members of an Air India flight after registering a case on a complaint by an air hostess. A senior

PTI [ Updated: October 04, 2009 3:44 IST ]
delhi police begins inquiry into air india mid air scuffle
delhi police begins inquiry into air india mid air scuffle

Delhi Police has initiated an inquiry into a mid-air scuffle allegedly between pilots and some crew members of an Air India flight after registering a case on a complaint by an air hostess.

A senior police official on Sunday said that the case has been registered under relevant provisions of the IPC dealing with molestation, hurt and common intention.

The official said the police would also take the version of the accused before initiating further proccedings in the case.

The incident, which occurred early Saturday when the flight IC-884 was cruising over Pakistan territory, is understood to have originated in verbal exchanges between the two sides during the pre-flight briefing session ahead of take-off from Sharjah, airline sources said.

The case has been registered under Sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 354 (assault or use of criminal force against a woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 34 (common intention) of IPC.

Meanwhile, a three-member probe panel has been set up by Air India to conduct a separate enquiry into the incident in the Sharjah-Lucknow-Delhi flight.

The Airbus A-320 was carrying 106 passengers and seven crew members and had reached Lucknow at 0600 hours yesterday when the matter was reported.

Satyendra Garg, Joint Commissioner (Operations) Delhi Police, said as per the complaint lodged by the air hostess, a case has been registered under IPC Sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 354 (assault or use of criminal force against a woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and 34 (common intention).

"Basically her (the air hostess) complaint had said that she had been abused, manhandled, assaulted in an undignified way. So the content of the complaint made out a case under these sections," Garg said.

He said the medical examination of the woman has also confirmed injuries on the body.

The fight took place between the pilots and the female cabin crew at 30,000 feet in the air. They came to blows inside the cockpit of the Airbus A-320 aircraft thus endangering the lives of 106 passengers.

The quarrel began on the ground in Sharjah itself and then turned into a full-blown fight once the aircraft took off soon after midnight.

The 24-year-old airhostess alleged that pilots harassed her during the  flight inside the cockpit. She later filed a molestation complaint against them with the cops after the flight landed in Delhi.

The pilots, on the other hand, accused a male flight purser of misconduct that seriously compromised flight safety, and said the accusation of molestation was aimed to protect the complainant's purser friend—who has a commercial pilot licence (CPL)—from facing action.

 At one stage the cockpit was unmanned, as the crew was busy fighting outside. Things allegedly degenerated to the point where the captain threatened to divert the plane to Karachi, likening the situation, sources said, to a "hijack".

In Sharjah, the cabin crew went to meet Captain Ranbir Arora and co-pilot Aditya Chopra for the pre-flight briefing. Both sides give different versions of what happened after this.

The cabin crew lobby said that after the initial tension on the ground in Sharjah, when the woman crew member went into the cockpit, one of the pilots held her hand and then pushed her out of the cockpit.

"She hit the cockpit door with such force that she started bleeding. When Amit Khanna, the purser, saw her in this condition, he went to the cockpit to ask what was happening. At this point, the pilots got abusive and started a fight with him," said a representative of the IA cabin crew, who added that the actual fight took place on the Lucknow-Delhi segment.

Pilot sources claimed that despite his commecial pilot licence, Khanna could not get a pilot's job due to the downturn.

"The airhostess had announced flying time from Sharjah to Lucknow as per the schedule, and not the actual one that the commander gives. After taking off, the pilot scolded the airhostess and then called Amit to the cockpit," said a source.

Khanna, the source added, entered the cockpit angrily and that's when the fight started. "He became abusive, and tempers ran high in the cockpit. Given the highly unsafe situation there, the commander said he would divert to Karachi, to which Amit retorted, 'Jahan le jaana hai, le jaao, is aircraft ko main bhi uda loonga (take it wherever you want to, I can also fly)'," a pilot representative said, adding that the fight occurred over Pakistan, while the plan was flying from Sharjah to Lucknow.

 The woman crew member, the source explained, got bruised when she entered the cockpit in the melee.

The cockpit was cleared, with pilots pushing out Amit and then locking the door. After that, the plane landed in Lucknow at around 4.30 am.

"Amit then apologized to the pilots, and they took off for Delhi so that the flight wasn't delayed. He later got the woman crew member to level charges of molestation to avoid action for making a hostile entry into the cockpit," said a source speaking on behalf of the pilots.

The police had the victim examined at Safdarjung Hospital, where her bruises were confirmed. A case was registered, among others, under Section 354 for outraging the modesty of a woman.

The DGCA is fuming at the gross violation of safety norms on IC 884. "The airline didn't even inform us of this incident in time. We're going to summon the crew members on Monday. This incident is shocking and we may need to take exemplary action," said a senior official. PTI

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