Vizianagaram: In a security scare, a dummy stun-grenade was today found on board an Air India jumbo plane as it landed at Jeddah in the wee hours, which the airline attempted to downplay but was rebuffed by Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju who called it a “failure”.
Air India suspended its two officials in-charge of security in Mumbai and Hyderabad as the minister intervened while a joint team of the airlines and the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security rushed to Mumbai to investigate the incident and fix responsibility.
After the incident came to light, Air India initially issued a press release that “after screening the aircraft and the object which was found to be a plastic wrapper, the Jeddah airport security cleared the aircraft for further operations.” But Raju soon countered it saying a stun grenade, which had no explosive in it, was found on the upper deck business class of the Boeing 747-400, which was operating flight AI-965 on Mumbai-Hyderabad-Jeddah route. He said there was no threat to passengers.
“The grenade may have remained after the mock drill .... It has BSF markings,” Raju told reporters at Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh. The security drill was carried out by National Security Guards between September 24-27 at select airports and aircraft across the country to check the alertness of the crew and others concerned.
Terming the incident as “unacceptable”, he said though there was no threat to passengers, “there is some failure and this lapse may not be condoned. Corrective measures have to be taken.”
Just before landing in Jeddah, official sources said a box, wrapped in plastic, rolled out from beneath one of the business class seats. The cabin crew saw it and immediately informed the pilot who informed the Jeddah air traffic control.
On landing, the pilots were asked to take the plane to a remote bay where the security personnel took out the grenade and found it not having any explosive, the sources said. It was later granted operational clearance.
The grenade carried markings like ‘Anti-Riot Stun Grenade' and produced at BSF's Tekanpur-based Tear Smoke Unit, with officials suspecting that it could have been left behind after the security drill carried out last month.
As an aircraft passes through various checks and cleaning prior to be airborne in which different sections of staff are involved, they are also responsible for seeing that such items are not there on board, the sources said.
Officials said the security in-charge in Mumbai and Hyderbad have been suspended in the wake of the incident. They said the entire issue was being thoroughly probed and responsibilities would be fixed after the enquiry.
This plane was not the one was kept as a stand-by for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to the US and it had been operating on the Delhi-Frankfurt route during this period, they said. The Prime Minister had undertaken a five-day visit to the US from September 25.