Emergency exit unlocked on-board Indigo flight, co-passenger claims it was BJP MP Tejasvi Surya

ByAnusha Ravi Sood

Published Jan 17, 2023 | 12:42 PM Updated Mar 03, 2023 | 4:57 PM

BJP MP and Yuva Morcha National President Tejasvi Surya at party event in Trichy on 10 December, 2022. (Twitter: Tejasvi Surya)

In what should have been seen as a violation of air safety norms, a passenger onboard an Indigo flight unlocked the emergency exit while the aircraft was being readied for takeoff.

A co-passenger on the flight has alleged that the passenger who unlocked the emergency exit was BJP MP Tejasvi Surya.

The first-time MP from Bengaluru South constituency is also the National president of the BJP Yuva Morcha, youth wing of the BJP.

The incident took place on Indigo flight 6E 7339 on 10 December, 2022.

The ATR 72-600 aircraft flying from Chennai to Trichy was scheduled to take off at 10.05 am but was delayed by 142 minutes after a passenger “accidentally” pulled down the lever and unlocked the emergency exit.

Till the publication of this report, no official statement had come from Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) about the possible violation of safety norms.

When South First reached out to Tejasvi Surya, the BJP MP neither confirmed nor denied the incident and insisted that he would respond only if DGCA or Indigo airlines put out an official statement.

The claims come at a time questions are already being raised on Indian air travellers and airlines’ commitment to report incidents and accidents on-board flights.

More than 24 hours after South First‘s query over the incident to DGCA via email, news agency ANI quoting DGCA officials said an inquiry had been ordered into the incident.

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What happened on Flight 6E 7339?

Speaking to South First, a resident of Chennai, who was on-board the flight, detailed what transpired. The identity of the eyewitness has been withheld as requested by them.

According to the 33-year-old, the flight from Chennai to Trichy on 10 December, 2022, was already delayed by 40 minutes as Chennai airport was witnessing heavy traffic following the impact of cyclone Mandous the previous day.

“This was a small aircraft, an ATR, and it was a packed flight with around 70 passengers. Once all the passengers had been boarded, BJP Tamil Nadu President K Annamalai and BJP MP Tejasvi Surya entered the aircraft. They sat on the first-row emergency exit seats on the right,” said the eyewitness, who was on an aisle seat nearby.

“The cabin crew gave them a special briefing meant for the emergency row. After the briefing, the two started talking to each other and in a quick moment, MP Tejasvi Surya placed his hand on the lever as if holding a gripping handle of a car and pulled it down. The emergency exit door came undone. The aircraft was already taxiing towards the runway when this happened,” the passenger told South First.

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What does Indigo say?

South First reached out to Indigo airlines to cross-check the details of the incident.

“It was a mistake,” sources in Indigo said in describing the incident.

“Someone had opened the emergency exit and immediately the crew intervened, and due process was followed. The aircraft was sent for thorough inspection as per norms. Only after all procedures were followed was the aircraft ready for departure,” the Indigo source said.

“The said passenger apologised to the crew and gave an apology in writing. The passenger was vacated from the exit row seat and seated elsewhere, as per norms. Details of the passenger cannot be revealed,” official sources from Indigo said, while acknowledging that the airline had not issued any official statement about the very serious incident.

It is unclear if Indigo had reported the matter to DGCA.

“The passenger wrote an apology and the issue was deemed closed,” the source added.

The eyewitness who spoke to South First confirmed that the MP apologised to all the passengers and the crew members for what he said was an “inadvertent mistake” causing undue delay.

“After the emergency exit was unlocked, all the passengers were de-planed. We were shifted to a bus on the tarmac while security personnel and airlines technical team checked the aircraft. We had to wait in the bus for nearly two hours. It was in the bus that MP Tejasvi Surya wrote an apology letter to the airlines. On the insistence of BJP Tamil Nadu chief K Annamalai, he even apologised to all the passengers. Had it been a common citizen who did the same mistake, would they be off the hook?” the passenger sought to know.

The incident led to severe delay of departure and arrival. The flight that was scheduled to take off from Chennai at 10.05 am finally took off only at 12.27 PM. It was scheduled to arrive in Trichy at 11.15 am but landed only at 1.23 pm.

What the MP, DGCA said

When South First reached out to Tejasvi Surya, the MP neither confirmed nor denied the incident but insisted that he would respond only if DGCA or Indigo airlines put out an official statement.

More than a month since the incident, neither DGCA nor Indigo airlines has made any official statement on the possible air safety violation.

On 10 December, 2022, Tejasvi Surya along with K Annamalai had travelled to Trichy to participate in the BJYM Tamil Nadu State Executive meeting.

South First reached out to Tejasvi Surya’s co-passenger from the day and BJP Tamil Nadu unit chief K Annamalai but his staff claimed unavailability citing the BJP’s National Executive meeting at New Delhi.

South First reached out to officials of DGCA via phone call and email.

While even Director level officers said they weren’t “authorised to comment”, the regulatory body’s Director General’s office acknowledged the receipt of South First‘s email but was yet to respond at the time of publishing this report.

DGCA, however, was quoted by news agencies as stating that an inquiry had been ordered into the incident. The DGCA is yet to respond to specific questions raised by South First.

This report will be updated with DGCA’s response, when there is one.

Past incidents

As per DGCA’s rules notified in the Civil Aviation Requirements Section 5 on Air safety dated 20 October, 2015, reporting of incidents, accidents and investigations are mandatory on all scheduled and non-scheduled flights.

In this case, it is unclear if Indigo has apprised DGCA of the incident. Similar instances in the past have been dealt with an iron hand.

In March 2021, when a passenger aboard a SpiceJet aircraft travelling from New Delhi to Varanasi attempted to open the emergency exit mid-air, he was restrained and handed over to the police after landing.

In February 2017, an FIR was filed against a passenger on board an Indigo flight from Mumbai to Chandigarh for opening the emergency exit and injuring a co-passenger in the process.

In September 2011, when a passenger “inadvertently” opened the emergency exit door on-board a Kingfisher Airlines flight to Delhi, the crew de-planed the passenger and handed him over to airport authorities.