When the Prime Minister’s plane crashed

Morarji Desai is remembered for various things (particularly his drinking habits and his birthday on February 29), and more seriously for being the first non-Congress Prime Minister (for what it is worth). He was also one of the few major political figures of India to escape a fatal plane crash (unlike Sardar Patel’s case in 1949 where no one was injured although the plane was written off).

A bit of legend has come up regarding this crash, citing the valiant crew of the IAF who “sacrificed their lives in order to save the passengers”. Things have not been helped because the results of inquiries into military aviation accidents are not generally released to the press.

In contrast, the DGCA now does put detailed accident reports on its website www.dgca.in

Click on the Aircraft tab and then Accident/Incident

Summaries of civil aviation accident reports going back to 1960 can also be seen there. You can even get this information back to 1950 through RTI.

Anyway, we come back to the crash of an IAF TU-124 near Jorhat on November 4, 1977. I was not able to obtain any Indian newspaper for that period. The basic details can be seen here:

https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19771105-0

The only picture available on the net:

As you can see, the front portion was badly damaged but the rest of the aircraft was relatively intact. The TU-124 was carrying 11 crew and 9 passengers. 5 of the crew in the front portion were killed while some of the passengers and other crew were injured, some seriously including the PM’s son Kanti and the then CM of Arunachal PK Thungon. The PM appears to have been unscathed.

Now the report of the inquiry commission headed by Air Marshal Subbiah does not seem to be available to the public. The next best reference may be this blogpost by a retired senior IAF officer:

https://tkstales.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/754/

Read it carefully. Many of the follow-up comments are of interest.

It does seem to be due to human error, but whether the crew or someone else in the IAF was resposible is still unclear.

The accident site appears to be near Takelagaon village near Bhalukmara railway station, about 10 km south-west of Jorhat airport.

https://www.google.co.in/maps/@26.6644431,94.1154097,14z

Footnote: More about Morarji Desai here:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/morarji-desai-everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-him-but-were-afraid-to-ask/

 

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When Sardar Patel walked out from a plane crash (Revised)

A little known fact about Sardar Patel: he had a little adventure when his plane force-landed near Shahpura about 65 km north of Jaipur on March 29, 1949 where he was going to attend the inauguration of the new state of Rajasthan. He and the other occupants of the  aircraft were unhurt, but his whereabouts were not known for a few hours until he reappeared in Jaipur. The other passengers included his daughter Maniben and the Maharaja of Patiala.

Today Shahpura is a small and bustling town on the Delhi-Jaipur highway.

Here is a link to the Indian Express of March 31, 1949. It can be magnified to suit the reader’s convenience:

The Indian Express – Google News Archive Search

It is not clear from these reports whether it was an aircraft of the Air Force or some other government agency, and it is wrongly mentioned to be a Dove (see the link below):

This link from veteran aviation writer PVS Jagan: http://jaganpvs.tripod.com/trivia05.htm

tells us that it was an RIAF Devon piloted by Flt Lt KG Bhimrao. Although the aircraft was written off, no one was injured.

The confusion arose because the de Havilland Dove and Devon were essentially the same aircraft, although the military version was called the Devon. Some information and pictures here:

http://defenceforumindia.com/forum/threads/historical-fighter-planes-of-india.48691/page-8

The biographical film “Sardar” (1993) with Paresh Rawal in the title role briefly shows this incident near the close of the film, though one would not expect the technical details to be accurate in a popular film like this.

The Sardar’s  colleague Jagjivan Ram had not been so fortunate. He was seriously injured in a BOAC airliner’s crash in Iran shortly before Independence in which several people were killed. So he was the only cabinet minister who was unable to attend the Independence celebrations on August 15, 1947. A brief account of the crash is here (though it does not mention his name):

http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19470716-0

There are, of course, several prominent Indians in politics who have been killed in aviation accidents, ranging from senior ministers such as Mohan Kumaramangalam and Madhavrao Scindia to other powerful persons such as Sanjay Gandhi and Dhirendra Brahmachari.

Footnote: The Maharaja of Patiala was one of the passengers on the Sardar’s aircraft. Earlier, as Yuvraj of Patiala, he had played one Test match for India in 1933-34 scoring a fifty. He would have played more Tests for India if he was not actively involved in politics. His son Captain Amarinder Singh, continues to be an important force in Punjab’s politics.

 

 

Spotlight on the Arakkonam airfield

Arakkonam (formerly Arkonam) is well known to railway followers because it is an important junction as well as electric loco shed, but has recently come into prominence because the inundation of Chennai airport caused some commercial flights to be operated from there. To be precise, this is the NAS (Naval Air Station) at Arakkonam which the Navy calls INS Rajali.

Most basic information can be seen here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/INS_Rajali

Although it started off as an IAF base in the 1940s, it was abandoned soon after WW2 and was reactivated for the long-range reconnaissance aircraft of the Navy during the late 1980s. The TU-142s and now the Poseidon P-8s have made good use of the 4.1 km runway which has been claimed to be the longest military runway in Asia.

Here you can see the locations of Chennai international airport (MAA), IAF Tambaram and INS Rajali marked with the small gold stars.

Chennai area

One can see that INS Rajali is about 50 km west of MAA, while IAF Tambaram is only 10 km away. At least there is no chance of a confused airline pilot landing his 747 at INS Rajali by mistake, though this has happened once at Tambaram in recent years.

Here is a closer view of INS Rajali:

INS Rajali

Though it is not very clearly shown, the railway line from Chengalpattu runs along the highway right by the boundary wall of the base. The Railways have been planning to electrify this section for a long time but the Navy have objected to the presence of the traction equipment being an obstacle to the flight path. Thus an alternative line is being built further from the airfield, but this seems to have dragged on for several years. This new line is not shown in the map. Meanwhile  the diesel-hauled trains continue to run past the base.

This is not the first time that military airfields have been used a a backup. Sulur for Coimbatore and Avantipur for Srinagar are other examples. The inaugural flight of Jet Airways to Coimbatore did land at Sulur by mistake. Apart from the Saudia 747 which wrongly landed at Tambaram, there have been several incidents including a mid-air collision and another which totalled a DC-8 which were caused by the proximity of BOM to Juhu. More about these later.

With all these movements of heavy aircraft, it is fortunate that this airfield has not seen a major aviation accident yet. However, India’s experimental AWACS on an Avro frame did crash a few km away in 1999, apparently putting an end to DRDO’s efforts in that direction.

“No goose, no gander”

This was the slogan on this airline advertisement in the late 1950s:

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8187/8083555182_112b4a5bdd_o.jpg

The small print may tell you that it was issued by El Al. To understand the story behind this, we must first identify the goose and the gander.

A map of the North Atlantic may make things clearer:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/@43.9785764,-32.7453284,4z

It shows you the straight-line routes from, say New York to London and Paris. Using the great circle formulae and putting in the coordinates of JFK, LHR and CDG we get:

New York to London: 3451 miles (all miles are statute miles here,not nautical miles).

http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=JFK-LHR

New York to Paris: 3635 miles

http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=JFK-CDG

The first flight from New York to Paris (not exactly matching JFK and CDG) was made by Charles Lindbergh in 1927, thus ushering in the modern air age as many textbooks may say. But it was not the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. That was back in 1919 by Alcock and Brown with a converted WW1 bomber on a shorter route, from St John’s, Newfoundland (then a British colony and not part of Canada) to a bog near Clifden, Ireland (which was still in the UK at that time). Taking the coordinates we get 1886 miles, considerably less than the more “useful” New York to London route. A rough sketch of this route (with the nearest airport at Galway as the eastern terminus) is:

http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=YYT-GWY

The point where they landed in the bog is still marked, while there is an Alcock and Brown hotel in Clifden.

It followed, therefore that if you wanted to travel from North America to Europe and your airliners had limited range, you would have to have stops in Newfoundland or western Ireland, preferably both so that you could travel to more interesting places such as New York, Toronto, London and Paris.

Thus arose the huge airport at Gander, Newfoundland. A subsidiary airport was also built at Goose Bay in Labrador, (on the mainland of Newfoundland). Similarly, a large airport came up at the practically unknown town of Shannon in the Republic of Ireland. This was close to the town of Limerick, though researchers have failed to prove conclusively that limericks were invented there.

Both Gander and Goose Bay can be seen here:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Goose+Bay+Airport/@50.78814,-55.0941876,6z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x4c7b7a25e4bf9d67:0xbbcbc870ca9fe1dd

And Shannon:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Shannon+Airport/@53.1810897,-8.5608469,8z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x485b41dad0f8b40b:0x6bf3c305b024f8dc

These airports in Newfoundland were intensively used by the Allies during World War 2. After the war got over, trans-Atlantic flights began with an invariable stop at Gander for refuelling. When weather there grew too bad, the planes were diverted to Goose Bay.

By the late 1950s, the Britannia turboprops were finally able to manage New York-London without refuelling at Gander. Even the BOAC’s Comet 4s had to stop at Gander.

So El Al could proudly announce direct Britannia flights with “No Goose, No Gander”. Ironically the Britannia itself was soon superseded by faster jets such as the Boeing 707.

History did not deal kindly with Gander and Goose Bay airports when they lost their primacy. They stagger along with limited Canadian internal flights, although the US military continues to use Gander. They also used to survive on the Havana-Moscow flights until the collapse of the Soviet Union. These flights became a bit of a pain for the Canadians as numerous frustrated Cubans and Soviets used to seek asylum there. Finally they passed a rule that anyone travelling on a flight which stopped at Gander had to have a Canadian visa.

However, even in 2017 Goose Bay had its day when an Air France A380 made an emergency landing there after an engine exploded on a flight from Paris to Los Angeles:

https://www.msn.com/en-in/news/world/passengers-describe-seeing-fireball-as-engine-on-air-france-flight-disintegrates-over-atlantic-ocean/ar-AAsH24s?li=AAggbRN&ocid=mailsignout

Shannon fared somewhat better and still has a number of flights to various parts of Europe as well as the US. Shannon and Dublin (joined recently by Abu Dhabi) are among the few places outside the Western Hemisphere where the US immigration and customs processes passengers before they leave for the US. There is even an all-business class flight of British Airways which takes off with an Airbus A318 from the tiny airport at London City, stops at Shannon for refuelling and processing of passengers, and then goes straight to NYC where the passengers can get off and be on their way without any other formalities. This is numbered BA 001 and is marketed as one of BA’s most elite services:

http://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/travel-classes/business/club-world-london-city

More interesting facts about geese and ganders here:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/the-goose-in-popular-culture/

The goose in popular culture

(Statutory warning: this is not about Arnab Goswami or any other Goswami.) The goose may not be a particularly impressive-looking creature. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/39/Domestic_Goose.jpg But it has contributed a lot to the English language and to popular culture. You have: Goose pimples (Americanized to goose bumps) Gooseberries (also known as Amla in parts of India) Goose-necked lamps: http://www.arbemachine.com/ProductImages/112641/lg_a87b42_LAPPING%20GOOSE%20NECK%20LIGHT.JPG Phrases: “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” or “killing the goose which lays golden eggs”.Or threats: “I’ll cook your goose”. Works of literature: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Snow_Goose:_A_Story_of_Dunkirk (This story was quite popular in the past) Going down the scale, we have this distant relative of Donald Duck: http://www.comicbookreligion.com/img/g/u/Gus_Goose.jpg The cricketer Gary Gilmour was nicknamed Gus because, like this character, he constantly got injured in various mishaps. And there was Goosey Goosey Gander. As in many old nursery rhymes, there is a historical context: http://www.rhymes.org.uk/goosey_goosey_gander.htm The word goose is generally used for both male and female, though the correct term is gander for a male, goose for a female and gosling for the young.

And the 19th century limerick writers did not leave the goose unscathed:

Said an old Chinese mandarin.
There’s a subject I’d like to use candour in:
The geese in Pekin
Are so steeped in sin
That they’d sooner let a man in than a gander in.

Fans of Vernon Philander would be dismayed to note that there is an alternative second line which says: “I’ve found in the course of philanderin’ “

And the Nazis may not have invented the goose-step, but they will always be associated with it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5BIDjVza1s

Which was duly lampooned in this 1940s British comedy:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Goose_Steps_Out

Goose is also a verb: _____________________________________________________________________________________________

goose
ɡuːs/
noun
noun: goose; plural noun: geese; plural noun: gooses
  1. 1.
    a large waterbird with a long neck, short legs, webbed feet, and a short broad bill. Generally geese are larger than ducks and have longer necks and shorter bills.
    • a female goose.
    • the flesh of a goose as food.
  2. 2.
    informal
    a foolish person.
    “‘Silly goose,’ he murmured fondly”

verb

informal
verb: goose; 3rd person present: gooses; past tense: goosed; past participle: goosed; gerund or present participle: goosing
  1. 1.
    poke (someone) in the bottom.
  2. 2.
    North American
    give (something) a boost; invigorate.
    “the government’s desire to goose the tired housing market”
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________
    And the gander also has a verb in old slang:
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________
    gander
    ˈɡandə/
    noun
    noun: gander; plural noun: ganders
    1. 1.
      a male goose.
    2. 2.
      informal
      a look or glance.
      take a gander at the luggage, will ya?”

    verb

    USinformal
    verb: gander; 3rd person present: ganders; past tense: gandered; past participle: gandered; gerund or present participle: gandering
    1. 1.
      look or glance at something.
      “Paulie gandered at shelves full of coffee paraphernalia”
      _________________________________________________________________________________________
      However, all of this does not explain why several major airlines put out ads like this “No Goose, No Gander” in the early 1950s:
      This is a little more complicated, but has a perfectly logical explanation. More about this later.

A 1962 article on Indian Airlines

The now-defunct magazine Flight  now has most of its old issues (from 1909 to 2005) archived as pdf in this website:

http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/index.html

You can find some interesting articles pertaining to Indian aviation here. The only irritant is that each page is stored as a separate pdf file.

For instance, here is a 6-page illustrated article from early 1962 on the Indian Airlines Corporation as it was then. It is particularly interesting to see a map showing all the routes being flown then and the average number of passengers daily. Even the famous Agartala/Khowai/Kamalpur/Kailashahr flight is there on the map and gets due mention.

This should be of interest to anyone interested in the history of civil aviation in India.

Please read the following pages in order:

1962 – 0202      1962 – 0203      1962 – 0204

1962 – 0241      1962 – 0242       1962 – 0243