Monday, September 7, 2009

UAE C-130 has been detained at an Indian airport

After trying to fob off Indian officials and investigators all of Sunday night, one of the pilots of the United Arab Emirates air force aircraft detained at Kolkata airport since Sunday finally admitted to the plane carrying a consignment of weapons.

The C-130 Hercules among the biggest transport aircraft in the world was on its way to Xiangyang, China, from UAEAF's Western Air Command base in Abu Dhabi. Although the UAE government had the necessary clearances from Indian authorities for the flight to land in Kolkata, it had not informed that the aircraft would be carrying weapons.

Indian Customs and airport officials interrogated the nine-member crew till Monday afternoon. After that, the ministry of defence (MoD) took over. Talks are on in Delhi to avert a possible diplomatic row. Officials here are tight-lipped. On September 3, the UAE government had applied to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for a flight information centre clearance that was necessary for a military aircraft not only to overfly Indian airspace but also land at a civilian airport.

An air defence/AOR clearance was also sought from MoD through proper channels. "As permission was sought through proper diplomatic channels and UAE is a friendly country, the clearances were given. Both applications were made in specific proformas with columns where the UAE authorities were supposed to mention if the aircraft would be carrying any weapons. These columns were marked 'nil' in both applications. Later, it was discovered that the aircraft was indeed carrying weapons. This was in clear violation of rules and the crew was detained," said a senior officer.

The aircraft was to land in Kolkata around 4 pm on Sunday, refuel, stay for the night and take off for China at 10.30 am on Monday. Crew members were booked for the night at a star hotel. It was 5.30 pm on Sunday by the time the Hercules captain, Ismail Samsi, sought permission from Kolkata ATC to land. The details of what happened after this are slightly hazy. One version is that the pilot was asked upon landing whether his aircraft was carrying any weapon. He answered in the negative. But an alert Customs officer saw a sidearm on one of the crew members. Soon, a team from air intelligence arrived to check the plane for its cargo.

According to another version, every foreign aircraft parked in the bay overnight is checked. Customs officials accompany the crew on board for an inspection before the doors are sealed. That was when they noted something amiss. There is a third version, which speaks of a tip received by Indian intelligence agencies from an undisclosed source.

A team from the air intelligence wing, led by B Jha, boarded the aircraft around 7 pm on Sunday and found three boxes that resembled those for carrying rifles. The pilot admitted there were weapons inside but that he did not have any details. He allegedly told officials that he was a mere courier and would often fly weapons to China for 'tests'.

The crew who were in military uniform were detained and led to the airport lounge. The plane was towed to hangar 14 and sealed. No effort was made to open the boxes in the cargo hold. The interrogation lasted till 2 pm on Monday after which the nine crew members now in civilian clothing were transferred to a hotel. According to the customs department, the ministry of defence would interrogate the crew there.

"Although the pilot's declaration regarding the weapons on board has dismissed the theory of the crew being involved in gun-running, the aircraft cannot be allowed to leave. All clearances granted have expired. There are some issues that still need to be checked out. We have also demanded an explanation from the UAE embassy in New Delhi," an officer said. The army is guarding the plane.


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