CPO on maternity leave, husband wade through marsh to save Yusuff Ali & others

Kochi: Rajesh Khanna and his wife were the first to reach the spot after a helicopter ferrying businessman M A Yusuff Ali, LuLu Group Chairman, his wife and three others made an emergency landing in a marshy plot at Panangad on Sunday morning.

Khanna and his wife Viji, a civil police officer (CPO), witnessed the chopper landing with a splash about 10 metres from their house off the National Highway Bypass around 8:35am. A technical snag in inclement weather had forced the pilots to land the helicopter in the vacant, marshy plot, merely 10 metres from the couple’s residence.

Khanna said the first thought that crossed the mind after seeing the copter dropping like a stone was to rescue those in it. The man and his wife waded through knee-deep water and tall grass to reach the chopper.

“I heard the chopper though it was raining heavily. It circled over the area once, before dropping into the plot. Initially, I didn’t understand what was going on. I picked up an umbrella and went to the chopper, but stayed away till its rotors stopped spinning,” Khanna said.

The man said the passengers were wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) kits. After rescuing the passengers and crew from the aircraft, the couple took them home. Khanna said Ali cited back pain to refuse a chair that was offered. His wife, however, took the chair.

The couple offered water to the rescued passengers, which was also declined. Meanwhile, those with Ali and his wife were making frantic phone calls. There were no vehicles on the road, probably because of the rain, Khanna recalled.

Though the Panangad police station was located merely a stone’s throw away, the personnel there were unaware of the emergency landing. Heavy rains that lashed the city had drowned the sound of the landing AgustaWestland chopper.

Viji rushed to the police station without even bothering to change. Most policemen on duty did not recognize the civil officer since they were transferred just ahead of the polls, and the woman has been on maternity leave. They took the information seriously only after a policeman recognized Viji.

The police soon swung into action, reached the couple’s home, and shifted Ali and wife in their vehicle to Lakeshore Hospital, founded by the businessman. A car arrived shortly in which others also followed. Ali’s vehicle arrived at the scene after all had left.

The couple’s house also doubled as the police control room for the first hour after the landing.

Close shave

The plot where the chopper landed, as if it was rappelling down, has compound wall on three sides. The copter landed a few metres away from the walls. If it had landed 2.5 metres ahead, it would have hit the wall and caused a major accident. The pilots also managed to avoid the wall behind the aircraft’s tail.

The pilot and co-pilot also pulled off a precise landing without posing a threat to vehicles on the Bypass or the nearby houses. The pilot also avoided the power lines.

Ali and his wife were on their way to visit a hospitalized relative from their house at Kochu Kadavanthara when the helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing. It was scheduled to land on the Fisheries College premises, some 200 metres from the marshy plot. The chopper belonged to the LuLu Group.

DGCA to probe incident

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) will probe the cause of the emergency landing, besides engineers from the helicopter services wing of the OIS Air Management Company. Chief Engineer J P Pandey of the firm said according to preliminary probe, a technical snag--not rain--might have forced the emergency landing.

The chopper, which was stuck in the marsh, was raised and shifted to the airport at Nedumbassery early on Monday morning. The helicopter was shifted with the help of technical experts from Delhi. It has been expected that the chopper would be flightworthy in six months.

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