A ground staff found Rohit Pandey’s body, hanging from the belly of a 90-seater Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft, at 1.45am. His head and left arm were stuck inside the plane while the rest of his body was dangling outside. Pandey was fixing a problem in a plane’s landing gear when the accident happened.
Fire brigade personnel broke the door flaps and brought the body down after airline staff and other technicians, who had assembled by then, failed to open the flaps. Airline officials said Pandey had stopped breathing by the time he was brought down.
Doctors at the airport’s emergency medical unit declared him dead and the body was sent to city’s RG Kar Medical College and Hospital for postmortem.
Police, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the airline started simultaneous investigations into Pandey’s death. A SpiceJet statement said Pandey was doing maintenance work on the “right main landing gear wheel well area” of the aircraft parked in bay 32 when the main landing gear hydraulic door flaps closed and he got stuck between them.
Two possible theories emerged as to how or why the door flaps closed “inadvertently”. Senior pilots and aircraft engineers said it was probable that Pandey forgot to install the safety pin that would prevent the door flaps from closing; and the less likely reason could be that someone, who did not know that Pandey was working in the belly of the aircraft, unknowingly operated the switch that led to the sudden closure of the door flaps.
An airport official said the flight usually flew on the Kolkata-Silchar route. However, on Tuesday, the aircraft reported some technical snag and was kept at the remote bay for maintenance. “The young technician was working on the flight’s wheel well flap. His neck and portions of the torso were inside the aircraft as he stood on a stool working in its belly when the door flaps closed on him,” he added.
Officials said Pandey should have been working with a supervisor and a helper but no one from the airline could confirm whether he was alone or part of a team when the accident happened.
Airline officials also refused to confirm the nature of work Pandey was doing. “An inquiry is on and we will be able to share further details only after it is over,” a SpiceJet official told TOI.
According to Pandey’s relatives, who alleged “negligence” on the part of the airline, the victim was a resident of Kandivali in Mumbai. He was posted in Kolkata just three months ago and was his family’s sole earning member. He left behind two younger sisters and a widowed mother.
“He was just a young trainee. Where were his supervisors? We have been told he was spotted several minutes after the accident and then it took several more minutes to bring him down from the door flaps. If this is not negligence, what is,” Chandravati Devi, Pandey’s aunt, asked. Pandey used to stay with his aunt’s family at Tangra in east Kolkata. The family flew to Mumbai with the body at 9pm after the postmortem was done.
A complaint of “unnatural death” was filed at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport (NSCBIA) police station and multiple probe teams visited the spot on Wednesday. “We have been speaking to a number of airport and airline staff to find out who were present there at the time of the accident. We are also trying to ascertain whether the door had closed because of a technical glitch or it was the result of someone’s mistake,” said an officer of NSCBIA police station.
Kolkata airport director Kaushik Bhattacharya said DGCA officials from Delhi had joined their Kolkata colleagues to probe the matter. “We came to know about the incident a little before 2am on Wednesday. We don’t know for how many minutes he was hanging there before being spotted,” Bhattacharya said.
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