Kochi: The pilot's and co-pilot's presence of mind, experience, expertise and tonnes of luck saved NRI business tycoon and LuLu Group chairman M A Yusuff Ali and others when the helicopter they were riding made an emergency landing in a marshy plot at Panangad here on Sunday.
Witnesses recalled seeing the copter going out of control when it was flying at the height of coconut treetops. Pilot Ashok Kumar, who is from Kumarakom in Kottayam, was at the controls with co-pilot Shiva Kumar, a resident of Chirakkadavu, Ponkunnam, assisting him.
Preliminary assessment pointed at heavy rains and strong winds leading to the plunge, but the cause of technical failure was not immediately known. Both the engines of AgustaWestland chopper had stalled before it dropped into the bog off the National Highway Bypass at Panangad around 8.35 am.
Ali, his wife and three others were on board the chopper piloted by the Kottayam men. They were visiting a relative undergoing treatment in Lakeshore Hospital, Nettoor, from their residence at Kochu Kadavanthra when the copter went out of control and landed at Panangad.
The chopper would be in auto rotation once it goes out of control. It means, the atmospheric air would be in control of the rotors, and even a breeze could affect the aircraft’s direction. It was under this circumstance that Ashok Kumar and Shiva Kumar landed the chopper safely. All of them were able to walk away from the chopper without assistance.
The marshy plot which the pilots chose to land has a compound wall on its three sides. Steel rods were also stored there, besides having overhead power lines. The chopper would have caught fire if it had landed on the rods or had hit the wall.
Also, the chopper would have been tossed away if the rotor blades had brushed against the wall. The fuel burning in high temperature also would have caused a tragedy. There were houses and other buildings nearby, besides the Bypass. An error in landing would have caused a major accident.
Captain Ashok Kumar had his schooling from Sainik School, Bengaluru. He had a 24-year-long career with the Indian Navy and was a Commanding Officer before retirement.