AI accident: Non-adherence to SOP cost a life

Overlooking procedures appeared to have claimed the life of an Air India ground service engineer when he was sucked into an aircraft in Mumbai two years ago, an investigation has suggested.

The Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) report into the December 2015 incident said non-adherence to Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and rushing crew to operate a delayed flight resulted in the tragic incident.

The report, submitted to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) recently, is based on the 16 December 2015 incident in Mumbai airport when Air India ground staff Subramaniam died after he was sucked into the national carrier’s aircraft.

According to the report, the crew who operated the Rajkot-Mumbai flight were to fly Mumbai-Hyderabad service. However, the Mumbai-Hyderabad flight was delayed as the Rajkot flight did not land on time.

This prompted Air India’s another pilot on Hyderabad flight to take clearance from the ATC to handle the aircraft. The pilot assigned to fly the plane reached the cockpit just seven minutes before the scheduled take-off.


He told the panel that he took clearance from the Ground Engineer and right clearance from co-pilot regarding obstruction. During push back, the engines were started and the parking brakes were put on after reaching the required position on taxiway. He then put the parking brakes off, switch on the taxi light and gave power to taxi.

However, four ground personnel were still around the nose of aircraft. The aircraft then started moving and the deceased Ground Service Engineer was standing facing back towards the aircraft with headphone on his head. “The aircraft right hand side engine came very close to the deceased and sucked him. All the other ground personnel ran away from the aircraft and the tow truck driver also took the tow truck away from the aircraft leaving tow bar,” the report said.

The co-pilot had told the panel that the ground staff had “given clearance followed by thumbs up” and not used torch for clearance. However, the ground staff refuted this saying the deceased staff had “neither shown thumb or pin to pilot nor by any other person”.

According to Operations Manual, one person from the ground crew has must be designated as marshaller and give thumbs up signal or at night with marshalling flash light wand.

The report concluded that “non-adherence to SOP and delayed departure of flight due to improper rostering of crew resulted in the accident”.

The AAIB recommended that crew must board aircraft 20 minutes prior to scheduled departure and minimum 30 minutes of gap should be there in case of change of aircraft between two consecutive flights.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Jun 14, 2017)

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