NEW DELHI: External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj VVIP aircraft from Trivandrum to Mauritius, lost communication for 14 minutes on Saturday.
The VIP Embraer aircraft carrying External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Mauritius, on her way to South Africa triggered a mid-air scare after the Air Traffic Control of the island nation pressed the panic button, an official statement said today.
The Mauritian ATC could not establish contact with the Indian Air Force flight IFC 31 after it entered that country's airspace yesterday, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) said in a statement.
But instead of waiting for the mandatory 30 minutes, the Mauritian ATC activated the uncertainty phase, known as INCERFA in aviation parlance, it said.
The Indian Air Force flight IFC 31 carrying the minister witnessed this after leaving the Indian airspace, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) confirmed on Sunday.
The AAI, however, ruled out a mid-air scare despite authorities at the Mauritius Air traffic control activating the emergency code, INCERFA. In the event of a plane losing contact with an air traffic control, INCERFA is activated only after waiting for 30 minutes since its last contact.
The AAI said that the Mauritius Air traffic control (ATC) probably raised an alarm before the stipulated time as the IAF flight was carrying a VIP passenger.
However, the AAI did not elaborate over what caused the delay in making contact with the Mauritius ATC after entering the tiny island’s airspace.
According to AAI, the IAF flight had left for Mauritius from Thiruvananthapuram at 2.08 pm. After it left the Indian airspace, it was handed over to the Male ATC which established contact with the flight at 4.44 pm IST. Soon after it was handed over to the Mauritius ATC, the incident unfolded leading to panic. However, everyone heaved a sigh of relief when the aircraft came in contact with the ATC there at 4.58 pm, the AAI said.
While on her way to South Africa, Swaraj made a brief stopover at Mauritius to take stock of preparations for the upcoming World Hindi Conference in Port Louis.
“Taking stock of the preparations for the Vishwa Hindi Sammelan in August 2018! EAM @SushmaSwaraj and Minister of Education of Mauritius, Leela Devi Dookun visited the Swami Vivekananda International Convention Centre (SVICC), the main venue of the World Hindi Conference” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.
The flight had left for Mauritius from Thiruvananthapuram at 2.08 pm.
The Male ATC had established contact with the flight at 4.44 pm IST after it entered the airspace of the Maldives from the Indian airspace.
Since the Embraer-135 aircraft, carrying the minister, does not have a long range, it had stopovers at Thiruvananthapuram and Mauritius for refuelling.
Government sources said the crew of the flight followed the laid down procedure to deal with the situation.
Swaraj today arrived in South Africa on a five-day visit during which she will attend the BRICS and IBSA meets -- the two major groups where India has been playing a major role.
She will also meet the top leadership of the country.
BRICS is a five-nation economic bloc comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, while IBSA is a platform for India, Brazil and South Africa to cooperate on matters of common interest in respect of global governance issues, including in the security domain.
An official conversant with the ATC issues over the Indian Ocean region told PTI that the problem in contacting the flight could have arisen due to weak radar coverage as flights have to rely on VHF communication, which have their own set of issues.
The uncertainty phase is the first of the three emergency phases, the other two being the alert phase and the distress phase.
During her transit halt in Mauritius, Swaraj met Prime Minister of the island nation Pravind Kumar Jugnauth.
According to External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, enhancing the ties between India and Mauritius was the focus of the meeting.
Swaraj also had an interaction with her Mauritian counterpart Seetanah Lutchmeenaraidoo.
(with PTI inputs)