| Jet Airways flight gets into an “air pocket”- a reminder to my own flight
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Jet Airways flight gets into an “air pocket”- a reminder to my own flight

Jet Airways flight gets into an “air pocket”- a reminder to my own flight

Jet Airways flight gets into an “air pocket”

This was news broadcast yesterday and today (6-10-14) in print. There was no untoward anything. The plane was approaching the Trivandrum Air port. This reminded me of a “fall” my flight had over the European Alps some where along the Mt Blanc sector.

I was in a PanAm 002 flight bound to NY-JFK along with Ghan Shyam Srivastava (my university Department mate at Syracuse) and his family. Ghan is an IITKh graduate who ended up in the Kansas Geological Survey. When Prof. Dan Merriam moved to Syracuse, Ghan followed Merriam as a shadow. The stunning fact Ghan had was presence of (Swapan) Ghosh, his own classmate at IITKh, who also descended down to Syracuse Univ., from University of Wisconsin after earning a MS in low temperature geochemistry.

But when I landed in Syracuse from Lawrence at the conclusion of orientation in the Univ. of Kansas, it was Ghan and Ajith (Chaudhari) da, who came to Syracuse airport to pick me up.  I was with Ajith da for one night and but on second day we together located a place in 400 Ackerman Av., near Drumlins Park. At the end of the second semester I had enough savings of about five hundred dollars even after the purchase of a Minolta SRT 101 SLR camera.

I also knew Dr TE Koshy, a Malayalee evangelist priest in town near the International Studen’s Office, in Ostrom Av. Koshy is from Punalur, Kerala and a PhD in journalism, from Newhouse School of Communications. To Koshy, I expressed my desire to go to India for summer of 1973, if I could get a ticket for 500 US$. In fact Koshy got me a ticket thru his friend down in NY city, for just 400 $ for round trip. The offer was exciting and I grabbed it. I believe, Koshy had some kick back for arranging tickets. Surprisingly, ticket was made out at a cost of $915., while I paid only $400.. Amazing ways the airlines competed for passengers even in the early 70’s.

Now about the trip to India and to Trivandrum. Ghan and family were going to India as it was quite a long time after he left with his newly wedded wife Shakun to Lawrence, Kansas. Alan was born in Lawrence any way. They made or saved money to make the trip to India and back.

They and I boarded the plane at JFK on the evening of May 1, 1973. We had boarded a PanAm flight 001,(a Jumbo Jet from the Pan Am Terminal),via Frankfurt and New Delhi to Tokyo and San Francisco and back to JFK. To my surprise, I noticed another PanAm Jumbo jet in an adjacent gate in the terminal ready to go westerly via San Francisco and Tokyo and then via New Delhi to Frankfurt and JFK. Our flight reached New Delhi on the 3rd calendar day. Ghan and I parted in New Delhi to meet again by the last week of Aug. 1973.

In fact, when we were preparing to land in New Delhi, the cabin crew told me that just a day or two earlier, an Indian Airlines flight, Boeing 723, commanded by brother or cousin of Col. Godavarma Raja (of Travancore Royalty) crashed near the Palam Air port killing all on board. In fact Mohan Kumaramangalam, a minister in the Indira Gandhi cabinet, New Delhi was also killed. No survivors in the crash anyway. The plane, Boeing 723, supposedly got tangled in the power line and crashed.

I landed along with Ghan at New Delhi, while the flight continued easterly via Manila on its way to Tokyo. There was no stop anywhere in between. Though Calcutta used to be a stop for the international flights, the industrial unrest, like gherao during the Jothy Basu days lead to the flight of the corporates out of Calcutta, and so did the airlines like PanAm and TWA. Those days the daily PanAm flight landed in Karachi only on every other day.

In New Delhi, I had no cash and instead had some salable stuff. For instance, I had three rolls of Kodachrome46, positive film and some cheap cassette tapes. I sold all these to a studio in the Connaught place, which gave me like Rs.500/- enough for may be three tickets between New Delhi and Trivandrum. The film rolls I carried became redundant, when my “Minolta” was deposited in the customs warehouse of the Palam airport. I was ineligible to bring in the Camera according to the then prevailing rules. I took the GT express to Chennai and Trivandrum express from Egmore via Chenkotta to Trivandrum. The broad gauge connection to Trivandrum was a latter development. I got home on the 5th of May 1973.

Now back to the air pocket over Mt. Blanc. We, Ghan and family, boarded the PanAm flight 002, (a flight via Tokyo and New Delhi to JFK). It was the Boening 747 jumbo jet. Perhaps one the best marvels among aircrafts ever any body built. (The Air force One used by the US President is a custom built Boeing Jumb).  The first stop after New Delhi was the usual Frankfurt am Main. We had a silk-smooth landing.  After the break, flight took off the ground and headed toward Heathrow.

Once we were flying along the side of Alps, the cockpit crew invited the passenger’s attention to the breathtaking view of Alps and the Mt Blanc. In fact, then I was holding a cup of coffee and relaxing. The cockpit also told us that we need to wear the seat belts due to air turbulence. The moment the announcement came in the public address, I felt as though the plane was going down instantly and on its own.

I had the coffee cup held tight between my fingers anyway. But due to the quick fall and loss of height, the liquid coffee was in the air but not in the cup. Seemingly the plane entered an air pocket, went through a vertical drop of may be a few thousand feet, but once out of it regained instantly the lost altitude such that a portion of the coffee was in the air for a second or two. Part of the coffee fell back into the cup and the rest may be on the co-passengers beside and behind me. Nothing else happened like the Jet airways flight the other day. Perhaps the law-un-abiding passengers got hurt in the flight.

The Cockpit then came in the public address with a big note of apology for the unexpected, sudden and unpredicted drop into the negative pressure area, where all that the crew could do is pray for the plane to get out of it and regain the normal flight altitude. The airframe is sturdy and is designed to withstand such stresses.

Thereafter, the flight was without any trouble and the ride was silk smooth. We landed in the JFK after a stop over in the Heathrow, London. The trans-Atlantic flight of about 6 hr was kind of boring, long and most passengers were asleep. On landing, the American origin passengers sang and cheered loudly with joy as the wheels of the plane touched their own native soil –a spirit rarely exhibited by other nationalities.

By line. The Boeing 747 is again an engineering fete. The alloy material making the plane is another example of human ingenuity. The engines that drive the aircraft is an unparalleled invention. In the Jumbo jets, I am not sure if the engines came from Rolls Royce or General Electric.

Luckily, so far, we Indians as a lot are not a player in the building of aircrafts. Right from my childhood days, time and again, I recall having read in newspapers about a LCA being built in the HAL. The only trouble was we had no matching engine of our own making for the LCA, while others would not sell one to us. We keep this iconic factory as a “legacy” and not as a production unit. Then, if any Indian contributed to the material or design of passenger aircrafts, it was because of the training and learning he or she underwent after Indian education.

By the way, Brazil makes a world-class aircraft for the passenger transport sector. China does too. Is it not time that ISRO took efforts in the aviation sector.




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