Alpha Bravo Charlie - PIA Douglas DC-3 Dakota

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Abbas Ali
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Alpha Bravo Charlie - PIA Douglas DC-3 Dakota

Post by Abbas Ali » Mon Oct 16, 2006 11:49 pm

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Young First Officer Khusro Nawaz Khan on the flight deck of PIA Douglas DC-3 Dakota (registration AP-ABC) in 1956 - Capt. Khusro Nawaz Khan Family Collection

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Capt. S. Afaq Rizvi - seated-1st from right - Capt. Khusro Nawaz Khan Family Collection


Alpha Bravo Charlie

By Capt S. Afaq Rizvi


It was a beautiful subtropical winter’s morning. We were cruising westwards at about 8,000 feet. In a few minutes we would be beginning our Instrument Approach to land on Runway 09 at the Nagpur Airport (India). It was the 29th of January, 1960. I was a rather brash 24-year-old at the time, and a comparatively less experienced DC-3 (Dakota) captain. I was operating a Ferry Flight from Dacca to Karachi. The aircraft was almost empty. The markings of the Dakota were AP-ABC, and, for all operational purposes, that was its name.

We had spent the night at Calcutta, and now were on our way to Nagpur which would be our ‘port of exit’, that is if winds were favorable and we could make it in one go to Karachi. Otherwise we would have to make a Technical Landing at Ahmedabad.

The Instrument Approach was completed for landing on Runway O9. We could see the Airport from miles away. The Control Tower gave us clearance to land and told us that there was another Indian Airlines DC-3 approaching to land behind us and we should expedite our landing. As we approached the airport, I spotted a small object hovering over the threshold of the runway. I asked colleague Saifuddin to report this to the Tower:

Saif: Nagpur Tower, this is Pakistan. Alpha Bravo Charlie (AP-ABC). We can see a small aircraft hovering over the beginning of the runway:

Tower: You have already been cleared to land. The small aircraft is a glider which will land on the adjoining grass field on your left. The Red Signal has been hoisted for him. Please expedite your landing, the Indian Airlines DC-3 is five miles behind you.

Saif: Roger, Pakistan Alpha Bravo Charlie.

Another minute passed. The glider was still hovering near the runway. I asked Saif to inform the Tower again.

Saif: ... we are on Short Finals. The glider still seems to be hovering over the threshold.

Tower: ... I repeat, you are clear to land, the glider is just landing on the grass on your left. Please expedite, the DC-3 behind you is approaching Short Finals.

Saif: Roger.

As we approached the threshold of the runway the glider seemed to move from right to left towards the green patch on the left of the runway, as expected. Then, all of a sudden, it flipped around towards us. Instinctively I took immediate evasive action. The glider was moving into us from the front left. I could almost see the pilot of the gilder, but his attention was focused on the ground, completely oblivious of the now imminent impact. We learnt later that his fiancee was standing on the grass down below and he was doing what all pilots do when in love: showing off to his sweet heart!

It all happened in a flash. The glider hit my left wing and disintegrated immediately. The DC-3 flipped like a toy, and with full Right Rudder and Aileron I could hardly keep it straight. The left wing tip was hanging. Reducing the thrust on the right engine helped a little, but because of the tremendous drag created by the damaged left wing I needed all the thrust from both engines, to barely stay afloat. I decided to put the aircraft down on a green patch on the right side of the runway a little further ahead.

Saifuddin made a May Day call, while Shah helped us lock the landing gear down again. We were literally flying on a wing and a prayer. With all my strength and effort, I could not keep the aircraft straight.

By the time we got near the grass patch we had drifted completely off the mark and the aircraft had changed direction. I released the pressure on the control column a little and let the aircraft turn left further towards the broken wing. Saif informed the Tower of my intention: to land on Runway 27 with the wind behind us. Emergency had already been declared and the aircraft behind us had mercifully overshot a few seconds earlier and was well clear of the runway.

Our left wheel was just crossing the right edge and I managed to ease it over and let it touch the ground just within the limits of the runway. I was expecting a cartwheel, but the aircraft held firm. Both our main wheels were now firmly on the ground, but there was wind pushing us rapidly towards the end of the runway.

I and Saif both stood on the breaks. All the four break pedals were pressed as far as they could go, and both the control columns were pushed painfully back against our stomachs to prevent the nose from touching the runway. The aircraft slowed down, the tail wheel touched and we stopped a few inches from the threshold lights. We were still in one piece.

There was an investigation to follow. The recorded conversation with the Tower is usually the key, as in those days we did not have voice recorders in the cockpit. I asked Saif and Shah to complete the Emergency checklist, pass our position and relate our predicament to Karachi. I myself dashed to the Control Tower. The tape recording had to be secured by hook or by crook. At the tower, there was a tussle for the possession of the tape, but even though I was outnumbered, I held on to it. Eventually, Shah arrived, and in all the confusion where nobody knew who was who, he managed to slip the tape into his briefcase.

We finally returned to the aircraft, which was badly mangled. It was sealed up and surrounded by guards. All our personal baggage was in the aircraft except, of course, Shah’s briefcase.

Night had fallen by now. We were put up at a hotel, with the instructions not to leave the premises. The next morning was Gandhi’s death anniversary, the 30th of January. Local newspapers had the picture of Gandhi next to the crippled AP-ABC on front pages. The impression given was that there was some kind of a wrestling match between a ‘bullying’ Pakistani DC-3 and a poor helpless Indian glider. A huge crowd had gathered outside the hotel, and there a lot of shouting followed. Things were getting serious.

Although it was a long time since I had migrated to Pakistan, I still had some family and flying-school contacts. I tried to seek help from them, but to no avail. Besides, the hotel reception refused to connect us to Pakistan. Late in the afternoon, I was summoned to the reception where I was informed that Air Vice Marshal Harjender Singh was on the phone. It appeared that one of my cousins had moved after all.

I had started my flying career from the Hind Provincial Flying Club in Kanpur in 1952. The then Group Captain Harjender Singh was the president of the Flying Club and a family friend. The conversation on the phone was to-the-point, but not cold. After hearing my side of the incident patiently, he asked me not to worry and although I was on the “wrong side of the border”, he would see what he could do.

An inquiry began the next day. Everything went smoothly. We were reprimanded for taking possession of Air Force property (the tapes). The recordings, however, were clear when they were played back, and saved the day for us.

The air traffic controller and Squadron Leader Arora, the glider pilot, were found at fault. Spare parts were provided by the Indian Airlines, and repairs were allowed. Everything went quite smoothly. Though there was an inquiry awaiting us back home, we knew our troubles were over.

Source: Pakistan Link

Link: AP-ABC incident description at aviation-safety.net
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Amaad Lone
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Post by Amaad Lone » Tue Oct 17, 2006 12:22 am

Great story.

My favorite part of the updates is the legend section.

Any idea what happened to this dashing captain??

Did he survive till retirement, which should have been in 1996??
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nutsforplanes
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Post by nutsforplanes » Tue Oct 17, 2006 8:11 pm

After retiring Capt. Afaq Rizvi is now living a peaceful life in Karachi.

Sadly, Capt. Khusro passed away in 1997.

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SaadSaeed
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Post by SaadSaeed » Wed Oct 18, 2006 1:05 am

very nice read indeed.
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Adnaan786
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Post by Adnaan786 » Wed Oct 18, 2006 3:08 pm

Wow, very nice read.

My favourite part was: "We were on the wrong side of the border" :D

PK777
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Post by PK777 » Sun Oct 22, 2006 5:49 pm

Excellent article!

Thanks Abbas for the post. 8)

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Abbas Ali
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Post by Abbas Ali » Wed Oct 25, 2006 12:21 am

Wanted to add following info about the fate of AP-ABC (c/n 6069).

February 1961: AP-ABC sold by PIA to Ethiopian Airlines and re-registered as ET-ABF.

July 20, 1977: ET-ABF operating Ethiopian Airlines cargo flight from Tippi to Jimma crashes into a mountain killing all five people aboard the aircraft. Weather was poor at the time of crash.

Link: ET-ABF accident info at aviation-safety.net
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