Know Your City: When a Pune-Bombay flight crashed in the hills in August 1979 killing all 45 on board read full article at

On August 4, 1979, the parents of Nandini Dighe, a Mumbai-based (then Bombay) air hostess with Indian Airlines, had booked three tickets for a Saturday night movie show they wanted to attend with their daughter. Nandini, however, failed to return home by 9.30 pm and the parents, who were used to such delays due to last-minute rescheduling of flights, left for the film hoping to see their daughter at the theatre or at home upon their return.

Nandini didn’t return home that night. In fact, the following day, the parents had to travel 10 miles east of the city to a hilly area near Panvel to look for their daughter who had died along with 44 other people after the Pune-Bombay flight that they were travelling in came crashing down at the spot the previous night.

The aircraft was completely destroyed and the bodies of the passenger and crew were completely mangled. (Indian Express Archive)

The flight, operated by Indian Airline, had left Pune’s Lohegaon Airport at 7.30 pm and was minutes away from landing at Bombay’s Santa Cruz Airport when the aircraft lost height and crashed in the hillocks at a height of 1,000 to 1,200 feet.

The aircraft – an Avro Hawker Siddeley 748 – was destroyed due to the impact and the post-impact fire. All persons on board, including 41 passengers and four crew members, were killed. The incident happened at 8.16 pm and, as per reports, it was raining at that time.

Foreign students, Osho followers among dead

Indian Airlines Corporation started the Pune-Bombay flight service in the late 1950s but it remained inconsistent throughout the 1960s with IA suspending operations for years at a time due to operational issues from Lohegaon, a civil enclave at the Indian Air Force station. The service somewhat stabilised by the 1970s with IA operating one Bombay-Pune-Bombay flight every day.

Being a service for a short distance of 150-odd kilometres, it was used mostly by the elite – foreigners, businessmen and senior government officials. As per aviation expert Dhairyasheel Vandekar, although chartered civil flights made use of the Lohegaon runway as per the transport needs of the city’s rich, its use regularised after the nationalisation of the civil aviation field and the formation of Indian Airlines for domestic operations. Soon, some scheduled operations to Bombay and Belgaum started from Pune.

“The flight operations between Pune and Bombay stabilised in 1965. At that time, the road journey was long and tedious. There was no Expressway and rail operations were also not as frequent. Pune-Bombay-Pune flight was popular among the city’s elite and foreigners who had onward international journeys from Bombay,” said Vandekar.

Initial reports blamed the malfunctioning Instrument Landing System at Santa Cruz Airport for the mishap. A court of inquiry later determined that the accident was caused by a combination of factors. (Indian Express Archive)

Flyers on the August 4, 1979 flight, had a similar profile. As per reports published by The Indian Express on August 6, among the dead was Air Commodore Sivaramannair Kesavan Nair who at the time was serving as dean at the Institute of Armament Technology, Khadakwasla. His wife Shanta Nair was also aboard the flight and died in the accident.

There were seven students from Mauritius who were studying in Pune’s Fergusson College and Wadia College and were on their way to their homeland via Bombay.

Three disciples of Osho, including theatre actress Petra Hennes from Western Germany, were also among the dead. One Mr Extross, an employee of a city-based manufacturing unit, whose name had appeared in the initial list of victims released by the airline, was found to be alive as a colleague of his had boarded the plane in his place without informing the airline and had died.

‘Misleading signals’ blamed

The second half of the 1970s was a particularly bad period for civil aviation in the country with frequent airline accidents. As per an accident summary report published by the Civil Aviation Department, 18 airline accidents took place in 1979 alone.

Media reports blamed the Instrument Landing System (ILS) at the Santa Cruz airport for sending misleading signals to incoming aircraft. “Malfunctioning of the ILS is suspected to be the main cause of the Indian Airlines Avro 748 crash at Kiroli Hill near Bombay on August 4. Since then two more crashes have been averted in spite of faulty ILS,” reads a report from later that month.

A Court of Inquiry instituted to probe the HAL-748 crash found that the accident was a result of a combination of the following factors: Momentary/intermittent loss of electrical contact in G/S system of aircraft which gave the pilot an erroneous impression of the interception of the glide slope; the pilot descending below 2,910 feet without first cross-checking over the Outer Marker, the failure of the radar controller to give position information to the aircraft from time to time, and the failure to inform the aircraft about the loss of radar contact.

The Avro HS748 was a twin-engine turboprop military transport and freight aircraft with a capacity of 48 passengers or six tonnes of freight which was licenced by the Indian government for the Indian Air Force from the United Kingdom. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) manufactured the aircraft in India.

Although acquired for military purposes, Indian Airlines needed a similar aircraft for civil operations and the government decided to use Avro 748, delivered from HAL, to fulfil this need.

“Avro HS748 were reliable and sturdy aircraft with a capacity for 48 passengers. Their induction by Indian Airlines helped boost domestic operations in India. They remained in use for a long time,” Vandekar said.

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About Atikh Rashid

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