M A I N   N E W S

Paraglider causes mid-air scare for Prez jet
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 29
In an event that has yet again exposed the country’s fragile air defence architecture, a maverick paraglider flew close to President Pranab Mukherjee’s plane, causing a mid-air security scare.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots of the Communication Squadron - who fly VVIPs - reported the unusual occurrence to their headquarters in Delhi.

IAF sources confirmed the incident saying, “It occurred around 10 am yesterday and yes, the pilots have reported the matter.” The incident occurred on December 28 within minutes of the President’s Boeing 737 having taken off from Hyderabad for Chennai.

The startled pilots of the VVIP plane noticed a paraglider at an altitude of 4,500 ft and just 300 ft right of the plane.

The pilots radioed back to the air-traffic controller (ATC) at Hyderabad if a paraglider was in its knowledge.

The ATC at Hyderabad was not aware of the para-glider. Aviation rules do not permit paragliding activity within a distance of 5 nautical miles of an airport.

The IAF has been asking for strict rules for such adventure sports and securing of unused airstrips - some 100 littered across the country.

Sources said the security lapse has been taken very seriously and a check is on to verify if any IAF or Army radars had picked up the para-glider.

The IAF, Navy and Army have radars on its bases which pick out flying objects, but the sweep of these radars does not cover the entire land mass of the country.

Unlike northern parts of the country, which are dotted with IAF or Army bases, the southern peninsula lacks that kind of intense radar coverage while the Navy along the coastline remains focused sea-wards.

The inquiry will try to ascertain the identity of the paraglider. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) will be part of the overall inquiry.

India’s air defence’s weakest links are the vast tracts of central India and the Deccan plateau as these have no long-range radar coverage, no air defence guns and almost no unmanned aeriel vehicles (UAVs).

Sources said the revelation of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) having trained some 150 fidayeen (suicide bombers) to launch air-borne attacks on Indian cities using motorised paragliders will be kept in mind during the probe.

Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal, who was deported from Saudi Arabia in June, had told interrogators about the LeT plan to launch air-borne attacks. Jundal was a member of the group that gave telephonic instructions to gun-totting attackers of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Jundal told investigators in August that he got to know of the LeT’s plans when he, in 2010, visited what he referred to as the "jumbo jet room". This is the huge house in Karachi where LeT plans aerial and sea route attacks on India.

Jundal has talked about 150 parachutes sealed in boxes and said that a man called Yakub reportedly told him about plans to attack Indian cities using the air route.

It was in 2010 - ahead of the Commonwealth Games - that Indian security agencies warned of air-borne attacks and the IAF trained the Delhi Police in spotting air-borne objects. Yakub is believed to be in touch with David Coleman Headley - another planner of the Mumbai attacks. Headley, a Pakistani-American, is lodged in a prison in Chicago.





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