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When air traffic controllers could not locate Sushma Swaraj's plane for 14 minutes

When air traffic controllers could not locate Sushma Swaraj's plane for 14 minutes

The Indian Air Force flight carrying the External Affairs Minister to Mauritius, enroute to South Africa, and the Mauritian Air Traffic Control (ATC) could not establish contact with each other for 14 minutes after the plane entered the island nation's airspace.

Saturday is a day that the Ministry of External Affairs in unlikely to forget in a hurry. Because the lady at the helm of affairs, Sushma Swaraj, had dropped off the radar for 14 minutes, causing a major scare at home and abroad.  

The Indian Air Force flight carrying the External Affairs Minister to Mauritius, enroute to South Africa, and the Mauritian Air Traffic Control (ATC) could not establish contact with each other for 14 minutes after the plane entered the island nation's airspace. The Mauritian ATC activated the uncertainty phase, known as INCERFA in aviation parlance, ahead of the stipulated time lapse.

"Mauritius ATC activated the uncertainty phase without allowing the stipulated time period of 30 minutes to lapse from the time when the aircraft last contacted ATC. This was perhaps done because the flight was carrying a VIP," the Airports Authority of India (AAI) said in a statement.

Since the Embraer-135 aircraft, which was carrying the minister, does not boast a long range, it had stopovers at Thiruvananthapuram and Mauritius for refuelling. 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.

The IFC 31 could not contact the Mauritius ATC after entering the Mauritian airspace, causing the latter to hit the panic button. However, there was a sigh of relief when the aircraft came in contact with the ATC there at 4.58 pm, the AAI said.

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. But after the panic was resolved, Swaraj safely landed in Mauritius and during her transit halt she met Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth. She also had an interaction with her Mauritian counterpart Seetanah Lutchmeenaraidoo.

The minister is now in South Africa to attend meetings of BRICS and IBSA - the two major groups where India has been playing a major role. She will also meet the top leadership of the country.

For the record, BRICS is a five-nation economic bloc comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and 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.

With PTI inputs