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System Failure, Low Fuel and Bad Weather: Air India Pilots Land Plane safely on 9/11

A major air mishap was averted on this 9/11 when pilots of an Air India flight successfully landed in the United States despite multiple instrument failures. About 370 passengers on board an Air India flight between New Delhi and New York had a narrow escape as the pilot managed to safely land the plane despite the rare combination of electronic malfunction, adverse weather conditions and lack of fuel.  It was on September 11 when Air India flight AI-101 was about to land at John F Kennedy airport in New York. After a close to 15-hour uneventful flight, one of the longest direct flights in the world, what unfolded in the next 38 minutes was a pilot’s worst nightmare. 

Captain Rustom Palia, who was commanding the flight understood that there were a multiple instrument failure and low fuel. The weather conditions, too, were deteriorating and what was to follow was the most critical phase of a flight – landing. Coupled with the cloudy weather, it became impossible to go ahead with the landing at JFK and the pilot decided to put it down at Newark, the designated alternative airport, instead. The low fuel meant the crew could not wait for the weather to clear up. Using an out-of-the-box approach, the pilot successfully handled the situation and landed the plane safely by mimicking the instrument landing system with the help of the jet’s vertical and lateral navigation systems. The pilots and the JFK ATC are praised for their presence of mind and coordination.  Air India has set up an internal inquiry committee to probe the incident.

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