The intruding Volga Dnepr Antonov Anotnov AN124 finally departed Mumbai late on Saturday evening at 22:39 (17:09Z).
The aircraft apparently has been “wet leased” i.e. aircraft and crew, by the US military for supply flights between the US base at Deigo Garcia in the southern Indian ocean and Kandahar in Afghanistan. The aircraft has made many supply trips over the last few days, but on the night of June 19, something happened.
As per officials, the aircraft entered Indian airspace on Friday June 19 around 20:00 with a call sign Victor-Delta-Alpha (VDA 4466) and a civilian aircraft status. While still in Indian airspace off the west coast of Gujarat, near the front-line Indian Air Force (IAF) base of Jamnagar, and just before entering Pakistani airspace near Karachi, the pilot radioed the Pakistan air traffic control with a different call sign, “REACH 813”, which meant it was a military cargo aircraft.
The IAF’s South-Western Air Command air defence movement liaison unit observed the ambiguous status of the aircraft and activated the standard operating procedures under which the Mumbai air traffic control ordered the plane to land in Mumbai . Adding to the fears, the behemoth transporter entered the ADIZ (Air Defence Identification Zone) without having obtained the required AOR (air operations routing) of the Indian Air Force which triggered the security alert.
The aircraft landed in Mumbai on Friday. On Saturday morning it was taken to a remote cargo bay. CISF personnel cordoned off the plane, while sleuths from the Intelligence Bureau and officials from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation checked the plane’s cargo hold. The 18 crew and passengers on-board were interrogated by IAF officials. Contrary to initial fears, the aircraft did not carry any arms and ammunition on board. It had three non-military armoured ambulances and was also carrying bedsheets and medicines.
“The pilots were not well-versed in English and only one of the other passengers spoke English,” an official said. “They stayed inside the plane through the 24 hours they were in Mumbai but the aircraft was provided with an air-conditioning unit and a water/toilet cart,” a Mumbai International Airport Pvt Ltd (MIAL) spokesperson said.
“The aircraft got all the sanctions needed to continue the flight. The IAF gave the aircraft the AOR (air operations routing),” defence ministry public relations officer Capt M Nambiar said.
Post the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, since the terrorists came to Mumbai from Karachi via the sea, the whole area is on a much higher state of alert.
Apparently this is not the first intrusion by this aircraft; it has been happening for the past 15 days. The failure of the Indian authorities to register this intrusion earlier, has raised several questions about the alertness of the agencies entrusted with the task of giving air clearances to all flights using Indian airspace.
Images courtesy Google Earth.