Airlines says bad weather caused the flight delay
Be careful who you tweet, and what. If proof is needed that almost every smart-phoned Indian is under surveillance, an incident involving a Jet Airways passenger on Thursday provided it.
Flight 9W355, carrying 176 people, and 8 crew members, and bound for Delhi from Mumbai ran into bad weather as it approached the Capital. On Thursday morning, the winds were strong in the capital region, followed by rain. The plane hovered for a while over Delhi airspace and was then directed by the airport authorities to head for Jaipur.
At this point, according to one version, the flight was already delayed by three hours. And, certainly, according to one passenger, Nitin Varman (whose twitter handle is @nitinvarma5n) there was no clear explanation for the delay.
So, Varman tweeted to none less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi- quite politely: "Sir, we have been in jet flight for past 3 hrs, looks like hijacked, pl help 9W355."
It is not clear how the tweet was sent as normally connectivity is not available on Indian flights, unless the aircraft communication system intercepted it and transmitted it.
The Prime Minister's Office and Airports Authority of India immediately acted on Varman's tweet. Security agencies and the Air Traffic Control were alerted, and checks were conducted at the airport.
In a statement, a Jet Airways spokesperson said a message involving a security threat was received and it had necessitated activating aviation security protocol. "The information was promptly shared with the authorities concerned, including the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), and the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) and local law enforcement agencies in line with Standard Operating Procedures," the spokesperson said.
The source of all this frenzied action, Varman, meanwhile was innocent of what he had unleashed all around him. Soon after the aircraft landed in Jaipur, security agencies carried out a thorough check and Varman - perhaps worried for everybody, or just plain irritated at the delay- was bundled out. "He seemed surprised," said another passenger.
The flight took off for Delhi later in the day. An airline official said they had intimated the passengers the reason for the flight delay was bad weather.
An airline source said: "These days all airlines are on high alert." The recent incident involving a Shiva Sena member of parliament ( which this newspaper reported ) beating up an Air India duty manager has touched a "raw nerve", he said.
Last fortnight, again, there was another security sensitive issue when an anonymous mail warned authorities of possible attacks on Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad airports across India. The mail received by the police on April 16, said: "A lady overheard six boys discussing a simultaneous hijack plan in Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Chennai."
The police later found the mail was sent by Vamshi Chowdhary, a transport agent in Hyderabad. On questioning him, it was found out that he had tried spreading panic to pull out of a commitment to fly to Mumbai and Goa with his girlfriend as he found the trip too expensive in his straitened circumstances.
"We are under great stress," said an aviation security official," because every hoax mail has to be taken seriously till proved otherwise".
Deputy Commissioner of Jaipur (East) Police, Kunwar Rastradeep, said that a case of criminal intimidation had been registered against Varman and that he will be produced before a magistrate on Friday.
When in doubt, best not to tweet. Certainly, don't tweet to the Indian Prime Minister. Your particular journey is likely to run into rough weather.