TRIVANDRUM AND COCHIN FROM AND TO AIR CRASHES

Friday, 17 August 2012


No Response from Flight VT-CFK



Air crashes and aircraft falling off the radar have been the subject of major motion pictures.  In 1950, Air India had two crashes; both CFIT (controlled flight into terrain), a term introduced into aviation lexicon by Boeing engineers to describe an accident in which an aircraft with no mechanical problem, under pilot control is accidently flown into an obstacle, water, ground or mountain.
The first accident took place on November 3; Air India flight 245 a Lockheed Constellation named Malabar Princess with 40 passengers and eight crew members bound for London from Bombay crashed into Mont Blanc the highest mountain in the Alps. This crash has inspired the 1956 motion picture The Mountain starring Spencer Tracy, the 2001 film Amelie and the 2004 movie Malabar Princess.
But the other crash, though on a smaller scale is no longer in public memory.  The victims forgotten, the human endeavor to locate the crash is not commemorated.

Rangaswami Peak: Photo credit: Jude Thaddeus
On December 13 a Douglas DC-3/C-47 Dakota aircraft belonging to Air India took off from Bangalore.  The flight originated in Bombay was bound for Trivandrum with stopovers in Madras, Bangalore and Coimbatore.  There were 16 passengers and four crew members on board.  One of my grandfather’s sons was to board this flight at Bangalore.  
 The flight took off from Bangalore at 9.20 am and was scheduled to land in Coimbatore at 10.24 am.  Till twelve minutes before the plane landed there was no indication of a problem. The pilot’s last contact with the control tower in Coimbatore was at 10.12 am. The aircraft had just dropped off the radar.  At 10.40am the Coimbatore airport issued a “danger caution” notice and informed Madras that there was an aircraft missing.
The driver who had been sent to meet the plane was a smart fellow.  When the flight did not arrive at the scheduled time, he made enquires and found out what had happened.  So my grandfather came to know about the missing aircraft by 10.30 am.  Everyone at home was grief-stricken.   By evening, the news had spread; friends and family gathered around to console the parents. The household was plunged into a vortex of panic and grief. 
Search planes, including one sent by the Rajpramukh of the Cochin-Travancore state, set out from Madras, Bangalore and Coimbatore.  All aircraft returned unsuccessfully to base as low clouds over the Coimbatore region obstructed the search.  Civil, military and railway authorities in the southern region were alerted about the missing aircraft.
That afternoon, a pilot of a small private aircraft which had just flown over the Nilgiri range reported very poor visibility and low cloud cover.  By this time, a drizzle had started and this further hampered the search. Captain Munshi a senior test pilot with the Hindustan Aircraft Limited who led the aerial search returned to base by 6pm and reported the cloud cover over the Nilgiris was just 300 feet above the ground.  Heavy rain was also reported in the surrounding areas.
On both sides of the Western Ghats, search parties were organized.  By afternoon, an army search party under one Major Jadav headed out to the Nilgiri range. The search parties made slow progress; by the time they reached the outskirts of the forests, the sun had set. The jungles, quite unlike what it is today, were dense with no beaten tracks. To add to their misery was the relentless rain.  The advance into the dense jungle was further hampered by the presence of reptiles and wild animals, tigers included.  
On the second day, the search continued. Without precise information the search parties relied on hearsay and rumors.  A forest guard on the Mysore side of the Biligiri Rangan hills reported hearing a very loud sound near Kathedevargudi, which is 18 km from Chamarajanagar. So the search parties combed that side of the mountains.  Another party scoured the hills near Kollegal where someone had reported a ‘loud noise’. Six jeeps and three lorry loads of police personnel left Coimbatore to search the Nilgiris, again based on reports by forest guards, whom The Hindu dated December 15 1950 called “the lone sentinels of these impenetrable forests”.
While the relatives of the other passengers waited with heavy hearts for news of the missing aircraft, in the Cherian household, however, there was to be cause for cheer. At lunch time on December 14, the missing son nonchalantly drove up to the front of the house. Very contrite and sorry for the trouble he had caused. His parents were so relieved to see him that they forgave him. He had missed the flight and had decided to drive up from Bangalore with a friend.  Even today, I wonder why he never called. 
On day three, there was still no sign of the missing aircraft. The Indian Air Force (IAF) continued its search.  It was joined in the search by an Auster aircraft owned by Harry Ferguson and Company. A training aircraft from Mysore was also pressed into service.  These smaller aircraft were used for its maneuverability and ability to fly at lower altitudes.
It was then decided that a reward would be offered to anyone with information.  An IAF Harvard took off from Madras carrying leaflets printed in Tamil offering Rs 500 for information.  These leaflets were thrown all over the Nilgiris. 
The search parties were now combing the Nilgiris .  The actual wreckage was first spotted near Kil Kotagiri, near the Rangaswami peak, by a forest guard who rushed to Kotagiri to inform the authorities.  At the same time, a driver at Curzon estate claimed to see the wreckage.  The tea estate manager informed the army authorities who also sent a team to Rangaswamibetta.
The approach to the wreckage was perilous through grass lands and a deep ravine. The first people to reach the wreckage were the police.  They found bits and pieces of the fuselage all over the place, personal belongings strewn around and worst of all, decomposing bodies or what was left of the bodies after the mauling by the animals.   
Curiously, The Hindu report talks about how all the bodies of the passengers were all under one wing. Questions were raised even at that time as to whether someone had reached the wreckage earlier.
On a lighter view, the Indian Postal Service’s devotion to mail was also displayed at this time. In the first party which reached the scene was the Inspector of the Coonoor Post Office who was able to salvage most of the mail.
Air India had arranged a special flight to Coimbatore for relatives of the victims.  Some of them genuinely grieving while some others seem more intent on getting to documents and valuables carried by the passengers.  
Reconstructing the accident, the authorities realized that because of the poor visibility the pilot had misjudged the distance from the mountain and the wing had scrapped the mountain.    
A few weeks later, my father spotted a driver at our estate, which is near Kil Kotagiri, wearing a gold Rolex watch.  He asked the driver where he got it from.  The driver was evasive and finally said that he got it from the pawn broker.  My father’s suspicions were aroused but before he could act on it the driver disappeared.
Many of the passengers on this ill-fated Air India flight were important people.  A few of them were travelling incognito, as was the custom those days.  What were they carrying, what mission were they on, are questions that will never be answered.
We would never know, would we?
==================================================================

The Hindu

THURSDAY, December 21, 1950., PAGE 4


AIR-INDIA PLACE CRASH

WRECKAGE FOUND IN KOTAGIRI FOREST
NO SURVEYURSS LEFT

OOTACMUND, Dec,19.All the 20 persons on board the Air -India Dakota missing since Wednesday last, where dead, a military search party reported to-night, after examining the wreckage discovered this morning in the Denad reserve forest near Kil Kotagiri, 40 miles north of Coimbatore. The party found the plane completely disintegrated and the bodies in de-composed state.
The wreckage of the plane was found in a rocky desolate valley below Rangaswami Hill, eight miles from Kil Kotagiri.
Kil Kotagiri is six miles north-east of Kotagiri and ten miles due north of Mettupalayam with an elevation of about 6,000 feet.
The actual place where the plane had crashed was four miles from Kil Kotagiri. The military party and medical men from Wellington had practically to crawl on hands and feet the last one and a half miles to reach the spot.
Immediately on receipt of information, Messrs.H.C.M.MacLaughin, Collector of the Nilgiris,T.V.M.Wilson,R.D.O., Coonoor, Ayyannah Conservator of Forests, went to the spot.
Kuttappa Karup. A forest guard and washer man who were the first to spot the wreaked plane and the dead bodies rushed back to Kil Kotagiri and informed the military authorities who immediately hastened to the spot under the command of Lt-Col. Mukherjee of the Staff College at Wellington.
On getting information Inspector Mansfield of Ooty Police with his party rushed to the p;ace. The road to the spot lay through five miles of estate and grass forests and three miles down a deep incline.
Inspector Mansfield and party who returned panting after the arduous return climb said the bodies were decomposed and the plane was lying “in a million and one bits”. The belongings of passenger were lying scattered about.
A relief military party proceeded to the spot, Mrs Harry, wife of Mr Harry (a passenger of the ill-fated plane), his brother and relatives of Mr R.A Krishnan(another passenger) are anxiously waiting at Kotagiri to proceed to the spot along with officials to-morrow morning.
Mr. Viswanathan, Inspector of post Office, Coonoor, had salvaged most of the mails. He was in the party which arrived first. Valuables have also been brought back by the police.
Mr.M.Kesavaunni Nair, Chief Conservator of Forests, Madras. Who received information late this evening said that the locating of the [lane was delayed probably due to the peculiar topography of the locality with precipitous high mountains and deep valleys, dipping down towards the east into the Moyar river.

BODIES BURIED UNDER WING

Mr.B.N.Rangaswami, a planter, and Mr.Madhava Panikar. Inspector of Central Exices, Kil Kotogiri, who had gone to the spot,stated that they found only seven bodies of which three could identified that of Miss Staggs.Air Hostess. The plane was completely wrecked, with its wings and other parts thrown helter-skelter. Under one of the wings of the planesome bodies were found . It appearsthat the pilot had entirely missed the direction and hit strieght against the hill.
Several persons are now comeing forward to claimthe revard of Rs.500 announced by the D.S.Pof Coimbatore for anyone whose first information led to the discoverey of the plane.
The Adjutant of the Staff College Wellington, said earlier this morning that the army authorities had received a report that a driver working under Mr.Briscoe, Manager of the Curzon tea estate which is near Rangaswami Betta, had seen with a binocular something which appeared like a wing of a plane. On this information, a military party consisting of 100 officers and Sepoy's led by Lt.Col.Mukherjee of the staff College, proceeded to Rangaswami Betta.
The plane, which was on a scheduled flight between Madras and Trivandrum, last contacted Coimbatore airport for bearings at 10-20 a.m,on Wednesday. It was due to land at Coimbatore airport 12 minutes later.
Following is the list of passengers in the Dakota when it left Bangalore for Coimbatore:
Crew (all Indians):1.Capt. A.B.Wiseman; 2. Mr.B.N.Ayre (Co-pilot); 3. Mr.K.A.Shenoy (Radio officer); 4. Miss Staggs (Air hostess).
Passengers from Madras to Trivandrum: (1) Prof. Wald (American); (2) Mrs Wald (American) (3) Mrs. H. Thein (British); (4) Mr. R.A.Krishnan (Indian).
Passengers from Madras to Cochin: (1) Mr.R.D.Robey (British); (2) Mrs. Robey (British);(3) Mr.C.G. Marshall (British); (4) Mr.F.W.Saile (Swiss).
Passengers from Madras to Coimbatore: Mr. Vincent (Indian).
Following are the seven passengers (all Indians) who boarded the plane at Bangalore: (1) Brig. Abaya Singh; (2) P.L.Kapur: (3) K.R. Bhadran; (4) C.P. Harry; (5) K.B.Menon; (6) J.B. Sud (7)C.Luke.

MADRAS GOVERNER'S SYMPATHY

His Excellency The Governor of Madras has sent to Messrs. Air-India Ltd. The following message in connection with the recent mishap to one of their planes:
“I am greatly distressed to hear the news of the accident to your plane in the Nilgiris involving the death of all the passengers and the crew. Kindly accept my sincerest condolences and heartfelt sympathies and please convey them also to the relatives and friends of all the deceased in the terrible disaster”

INQUEST ON VICTIMS
KOTAGIRI, Dec, 20.According to the latest reports from the spot where the Air-India Dakota had crashed, eighteen dead bodies have been found. The bodies are said to have been decomposed, some of the being mutilated.
As it is considered impossible to remover them from the spot owing to the difficult nature of the terrain, it is proposed to hold the inquest on the spot and dispose them of there itself. Our Coimbatore correspondent adds: Mr. G.K.Devarajulu. Mill-owner of the Coimbatore, who is interest in one of the passengers of the plane and who returned late last night after visiting the area close to the place where the plane lay, states that he got information from the military office that almost all bodies have been recovered. The bodies of the Air Hostess who had here handbag with her photo, and the Swiss passengers whose diary was found on his chest were identified. Bodies of other victims were in a highly decomposed state. He added that most of the belongings of the passengers had been recovered though some of the had been scorched by fire here and there. Isolated injuries due to fire where noticed on some bodies and it is inferred that the plane had not completely burnt. The military where anxious about Brigadier Abava Singh who was traveling in the plane and was in uniform out they could not identify him.
A Bombay message states:
A special Air-India Dakota. Carrying relatives of the passengers and crew who were killed in the Air-India Dakota crash in the Nilgiris took off from Bombay for Coimbatore at noon to-day. They will visit the scene of the disaster near Kil Kotagiri.
Brigadier Habibullah, Commander. Bangalore Sub-area who returned to Bangalore from Coimbatore on Monday said that he had flown over the area above the confluence of the Bhavani and the Moyar rivers, where the hills are about 4,000 to 5,000 feet high.
Referring to his vain search for the plane in the Bilgiri range, Brigadier Habibullah said that his men had made intensive searches in an area of about 200 square miles and had also combed the best part of the vast area of 1,400 square miles. He added: “On Sunday our patrols were followed by angry tigers and wild elephants.” In the jungles where they had made searches all these days 10,000 people could get lost easily without being known to the others. There were huge trees which looked like a huge carpet of cauliflowers and the steep black rocks did not at all rive any help. Patrol parties were sent in all directions Brigadier Habibullah said that he found the jungle tribe were shy. After the dropping of leaflets from the air by the District Superintendent of Police. Coimbatore, stating that a reward would be given, more people had come forward. He was all praise for the great efforts made by Mr. And Mrs Morris and the Mysore Police to locate the missing plane.
Brigadier Habibullah told the PTI correspondent that feeling that the number of men detailed for search was to small compared with the area involved, he had got general permission from Major General A.A.Rudra, G.O.C, Madras Area, to have the whole Second Battalion of the Madras Regiment, numbering 500 to join the search. The entire Biligiri range had been scoured with no results.

THE DAKOTA'S CREW
(FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT)

Three members of the crew of four, in charge of the Air-India Dakota which crashed in the Nilgiris belonged to Bombay.
Mr.Andrew Browne Wisemen, the chief pilot, joined the Air-India service in 1947, and held the rank of junior captain. He was a flying officer with the Indian Air Force for three and a half years.
Mr Ramnath Narayan Aiyar, Co-pilot. Thirty-six year old, was living with his wife and three children at Ghodbunder road, Vila Parle, Bombay. He had a long and varied career as wireless operator, as Radio Officer with Scindia Steam navigation company, and the Merchant Navy, He joined Air-India in 1945 as Radio Officer. He proceeded to England and obtained his navigators license. Then he joined Air-India International and was recently promoted to the rank of First Officer, having been selected as a pilot in April last.
Mr.Kasargo Appu Shenoy was 24 years old. He had three years service with the company
Miss Cynthia Celine Staggs. Air Hostess, was a native of Madras. She recently joined Air-India, and was still on probation.
Mr.P.K.Kapur who was connected with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Bombay was the managing Director of the Government-sponsored Rare Earth Company Ltd., and was on his way to Trivandrum to take charge of a new scientific laboratory there.
Mr.C.P.Harry. Was a resident of Bombay for many years. He was an engineer with the Mukand Iron and Steel Works. Maragaon. Later he was connected with the Westinghouse Electric Company. He assisted in the installation of the air-conditioning equipments at the Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital. Parle. Mr Harry left Bombay to take up an appointment with the new plastic industry establishment in Tranvancore.

a small news i found in the same page of The Hindu that is so relevant to our times and a concern even then
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

FAILURE OF MONSOON

Sir.- the failure of the north-east monsoon in south India for the fifth year in succession is a matter of grave significance. Without timely rains, our grandest hydro-electric projects are bound to fail. What may this repeated failure be due to? One explanation links it with the wholesale destruction of vast forest regions all along the north-east frontier of India during the last war and particularly the opening of the Burma Road. It is said that a persistent wind is blowing through that opening eastward all the 24 hours. For all we know, this wind may be blowing precious rains away from India. Those who know that forests have a good deal to do with rains, will not dismiss the above explanation as worthless. In any case, the failure of the monsoon began to appear as a regular event only since the Road was opened. The subject seems certainly worthy of investigation by a body of experts.
Kozhikode. P.K.V.M
=================================================================


Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Monday, May 05, 2003

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Hero of an air crash
K.K Nambiar, an air crash survivor, narrates to M. K. UNNIKRISHNAN his frightening experience aboard the fateful Trivandrum-Madras flight.
SURVIVING AN air-crash is like being granted a second lease of life. Ask K. K. Nambiar , he'll tell you. A gentleman of avuncular disposition, an excellent host, widely travelled and well connected in society, he still keeps that tell-tale watch.
Listen to Mr Nambiar's narrative. The date of the crash is 9th December 1971. And the time, 12.24 pm. I was on my way to Madras from Trivandrum. The flight was by an Avro..... But the story begins much before that; I must start with how I happened to fix my travel on that fateful day. 
 
In those days, I was the Registrar of Co-operative Societies, Kerala State. I was invited to attend the State Bank of India South Zone, Circle Co-ordination Committee meeting at Madras. As it was only a routine meeting, I was not at all keen. I had even dropped the idea of going to Madras.
It seems so strange and puzzling how it all happened the way it didI was waitlisted, to be precise, I was fourth on the waiting list.
After some enquiries they said that I could travel up to Madurai. I was disappointed. I almost decided to go back home...
The travel from Madurai to Madras was not an easy thing to undertake in those days. Morever , I had just Rs 105 with me. Breaking my journey at Madurai could have meant a lot of unexpected expenditure. Even my bag was packed for a brief journey. Then again, my friend Mr Raghavan, who was also in the waiting list, kept persuading me to come along. You see, he too was supposed to be with me at the same meeting. I was almost going to drop out when the airport officer told me that I could go up to Trichy, a lot closer. Perhaps, at Trichy, if there was a vacant seat I would be `lucky'. Mr Chandrashekhara Pillai, then former minister, was to attend the same meeting with me. He said that we must sit next to each other in the plane and I agreed.
We took off at 12.10 pm. I was the last one to board the plane. The formal announcements before take off were already over. The stairway was pulled off and the doors were shut the very moment I stepped into the plane. I don't remember anything unusual during the take off. But something remarkable, strange and fateful happened as I boarded the plane. Mr Raghavan dragged me to the rear and insisted that I must sit with him. You see, I had already planned to sit with Mr Chandraskekhara Pillai who had his seat in the front. What Raghavan did was to physically drag me to the rear end of the plane.
(This saved my life.)
Within a few minutes the weather began to worsen. It became cloudy and the visibility dropped. I could see nothing but dark clouds outside the window.


The plane suddenly began to bump violently. Perhaps, we were entering repeatedly into air pockets. On four occasions the plane was tossed up and down in a terribly violent way. Despite my frequent travels by air, it was nothing like I had experienced before.
The plane was possibly straying away from the regular route.
Then Mr Raghavan, who was seated by the window looked anxiously at me and asked:
`Mr Nambiar, are we going to crash? '
That was the last thing I could recall ...
Then the plane crashed! How it took place, I cannot tell you. I did not remember hearing any noise either. I must have fallen unconscious under the impact.
When I regained consciousness, I knew that the plane had crashed. The plane had been broken into many pieces. The front part of the plane was probably torn into shreds. What I could see were only the middle and the rear of the plane. Seats were thrown about all around me and lay scattered on the ground. The roof of the plane had disappeared. I found myself still seated in the rear, with my seat belt still on. Mr Raghavan's seat had been thrown some distance to the front. He seemed thoroughly dazed but secure in his seat and alive. Those who were seated to my right were nowhere to be seen.
I examined myself. Nothing seemed to have happened to me. No fracture, no injury, no blood anywhere. I felt immensely relieved. When I looked behind me, I saw a crack on the floor of the plane through which I could see the thick undergrowth of the jungle.
I had a feeling that the plane would blow up in a moment I jumped out of the plane through the crack on the floor.
It was all quiet outside the plane. It was then that I realised that Mr Raghavan was still seated thereI found that it was his shoe that was stuck between the broken parts of the plane. I undid his shoelaces and he freed himself. The exact time of the crash was 12.24 pm. The watch is still with me as a souvenir, still showing the fateful moment of my life, frozen on the faded dial. It was a fine watch, a Favre Leuba in excellent condition but I decided against getting it repaired
There were nine survivors in all but I was the only person who
escaped the crash completely unhurt!
I must have walked for more than an hour before I saw the typical corrugated tin roofs Meghamala division of a tea estate owned by Brooke Bond Company. I went there straight and announced the news of the air crash. They too had heard a loud noise but were not sure where it came from.
The news of the crash slowly spread through the estate. I became the centre of attraction. Dr Venkatachaliah, from the estate, shifted the injured passengers to the estate hospital with minimum loss of time. They were given first aid and later shifted to nearby hospitals. The dead bodies were then heaped up and transported in a lorry.
Meanwhile my wife received a telephone call from my neighbour Mr Nanu Kuttan Nair's wife . She asked my wife whether I was at home. When my wife replied that I had left to Madras by air, she put down the receiver abruptly. My wife was puzzled but not alarmed yet.
But Mr K M Balakrishnan PA of Minister Mr M K Balakrishnan went a step further. He telephoned my wife and told her that the plane had crashed but I was safe. He said it without really knowing that I had survived!
Very soon the neighbourhood where I lived was buzzing with cars. About 200 cars had rushed to my locality, anxious about air crash. Many visitors had already taken me for dead. Somebody even asked my wife where the cremation was being arranged. My wife fainted.
Meanwhile, I must tell you that the scene of crash was 18 miles from the nearest telegraphic office. The estate people recruited two messengers on motorcycles to the telegraph office and the Madurai Collectorate. I gave them my residence phone number and asked them to tell my wife that I was safe.
To this day, the event continues to haunt me. My memory is fresh when it comes to recalling the event in its finest detail.
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