Days before the Karnataka Assembly election 2018, Congress President Rahul Gandhi's aircraft, in which was flying to Hubballi, on Thursday suffered a snag mid-air and its auto-pilot system also failed. The Congress complained to the Karnataka police, alleging that the incident raised questions of "intentional tampering to endanger the life of passengers". Gandhi's aide, Kaushal Vidyarthee, said in the complaint that the aircraft, which was on a special flight (VT-AVH) from New Delhi to Hubballi, suffered a "serious malfunction" and "tilted heavily to one side during the course of the flight". According to the party, Gandhi remained calm and composed during the incident and kept assuring his co-passengers that they would all land safely in Hubbali.
In New Delhi, Congress spokesperson in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala demanded a thorough investigation into the incident. The flight (VT-AVH), which was carrying Gandhi, Vidyarthee, Rahul Ravi, and Special Protection Group official Rahul Gautam, suddenly tilted heavily on the left side and the altitude dipped steeply, combined with the violent shuddering of the aircraft body. Subsequently, Vidyarthee sent a complaint letter to the Karnataka Director General of Police and Inspector General of Police Neelamani N Raju, demanding a probe into the incident.
In its complaint, the Congress said that it was "apparent from the suspicious and faulty performance of the aircraft" that the incidents of shuddering and losing altitude "were not natural or weather-related". The complaint further said that the possibility that the aircraft carrying Gandhi was intentionally tampered with could not be "brushed aside".
Here are the top 10 developments around the technical snags in Congress President Rahul Gandhi's flight to Karnataka's Hubbali:
1) What happened during Rahul Gandhi's Delhi-Hubballi flight? Vidyarthee's complaint after the incident paints a vivid picture of the snags that developed during the flight:
a) At around 10:45 am, the aircraft "suddenly titled heavily on the side and the altitude dipped steeply", Further, the passengers faced "violent shuddering of the aircraft body".
b) As the aircraft shuddered, the complaint said, "a clanking noise was clearly audible" from one side of the plane.
c) Further, the complaint said that the aircraft's auto-pilot was "not functioning".
2) How did Gandhi and other passengers withstand the malfunction? The complaint did not furnish details on how exactly the crisis was averted. However, it said that the aircraft only landed on the third attempt.
3) Congress demands probe into technical snags in Gandhi's flight, does not rule out foul play: Hours after Gandhi's flight faced technical snags, party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said that all possibilities, including foul play, would be examined. Surjewala said that what happened to Gandhi's flight was "a serious case of aviation mechanics failure", adding that the Congress demands that "it be seriously investigated".
Further, Surjewala said that a complaint letter had been written to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to look into all aspects of the matter, "including that of possible foul play".
4) Why does Congress want a probe? Fist, the complaint said that at the time the incident took place, the weather outside was "sunny, normal and not windy". The complaint bases this statement on the observation of the passengers and the weather forecast for the day.
Second, the complaint said that it was apparent from the "suspicious" performance of the aircraft that the incidents of "shuddering and altitude dipping were not natural or weather-related". Instead, it said that the incident was caused by some "technical snags of the aircraft".
Third, the complaint said that the multiple and unexplained technical snags in the aircraft, along with the failure of the auto-pilot system, raised serious questions of aviation safety and possible foul play.
Based on this, the complaint added that "serious questions related to intentional tampering" could not be brushed aside.
5) Rahul Gandhi was calm, tried to aid pilots as flight faced snags: Surjewala lauded Gandhi for being calm and composed at the time of the incident. "At one point, the plane had tilted to one side, as the auto-pilot mode had failed. However, throughout this time, Rahul remained calm and composed, and kept assuring his co-passengers that they would all safely land in Hubli," he said. Further, Vidyarthee took to Twitter saying that he couldn't believe Gandhi's "composure and calmness as he stood beside pilots trying to save the situation".
6) DGCA rules out foul play: In response to the Congress hinting at intentional tampering, the DGCA clarified that the incident was a technical snag. "It was snag of autopilot mode and pilot shifted to manual mode and landed safely. Such autopilot incidents are not uncommon," the DGCA said in a statement.
7) Congress cites protocol for SPG protectees: Surjewala also pointed out that usually, when an SPG protectee is travelling, the complete details of the pilots and the aircraft are submitted to the DGCA and the SPG. "Only when all of these are cleared, then the flight plan is okayed. This is a serious case of aviation mechanics failure," he said. Surjewala added that the radars of the flight had partially failed.
8) No details on make of the aircraft or ownership: The complaint letter, also shared by the Congress through its official Twitter handle, however, does not mention the exact make of the aircraft the Congress President flew in and whose it was.
9) Karnataka police looking into incident: Hubbali-Dharwad DCP (Law and Order) Renuka Sukumar said the case was being taken up at the Gokul Road police station under Sections 287 and 336 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), along with Section 11 of the Aircraft Act.
10) Rahul Gandhi to release Congress' Karnataka manifesto today: Gandhi arrived at Hubballi airport at around 11.25 am on Thursday on a two-day visit to the poll-bound state to launch the party's campaign for the May 12 legislative Assembly election in the coastal region. On Friday, the Congress chief will release the party's "Nava Karnataka manifesto".
With agency inputs