Seconds before take-off from Surat in Gujarat on Thursday evening, a Spice Jet flight with 140 passengers on board thudded to a stop; it had hit a buffalo that had strolled on to the runway through a gap in the airport’s boundary wall.
The collision killed the buffalo and caused potentially multi-million dollar damage to the Boeing 737 aircraft.
The Civil Aviation Ministry has ordered separate inquiries by the Director General of Civil Aviation and the Airports Authority of India. Minister Ashok Gajapati Raju held a two hour meeting this morning and, sources say, ordered that fencing at all airports should be replaced by concrete walls.
Just next to the Surat airport are fields where grazing cattle are a common sight. Yesterday, one of the animals apparently entered the runway area through the breach in the perimeter that is now being repaired.
The pilot reportedly spotted the animal “all of a sudden,” but could not avoid the collision.
“If the plane had taken off after this, we would have crashed. Thank God we were saved,” said a passenger, Prabhakar Joshi, who talked about a loud noise just as the plane started picking speed, as if “something had hit the wheel.”
The flight was about to take off for Delhi at around 7 pm when the incident took place. The passengers were later sent on another flight.
In a statement, SpiceJet said the buffalo was almost invisible against a dark background.
“Stray animals are a growing menace in some airports. This incident has affected our regular operations and SpiceJet flights from Surat will now be suspended indefinitely after this incident,” airline spokesperson Siddharth Kumar said on Thursday.
SpiceJet says it won’t resume flights at Surat without “corrective measures to ensure its passengers, crew and aircraft are not put at risk again.”
Indian airports have long battled the problem of animals on the runway.
In 2008, a Kingfisher Airlines plane hit a stray dog on the runway at the Bangalore International Airport. The same year, an Air India aircraft hit a Nilgai at Kanpur Airport. In 2009, a Kingfisher flight hit a stray pig at Nagpur airport.