ONGC chopper crash: Pawan Hans' latest accident brings state-owned company's apathy towards safety issues to forefront

The issue of safety and operational efficiency of Pawan Hans choppers has again come to forefront after a helicopter, belonging to Pawan Hans Limited, with seven people on board went missing in Mumbai soon after take-off from the Juhu airport on Saturday.

Six bodies of five ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited) officers, who were aboard, and one of the two pilots were recovered on Sunday. The Coast Guard on Monday traced the aircraft's voice data recorder and fished out one more body from the Arabian Sea, The Telegraph reported.

Pawan Hans Limited is a joint venture between the government of India owning 51 percent stakes whereas state-owned ONGC holding 49 percent stakes.

Representational image. IBNLive

Representational image. IBNLive

As of January 2017, Pawan Hans has a fleet of 46 helicopters. Pawan Hans Limited reported a net profit of Rs 38.8 crore in FY15, The Economic Times reported. The company was incorporated with the objective of providing helicopter support services to the oil sector, services in remote and hilly areas, as well as, for charter services.

Pawan Hans' dubious record 

According to The Times of India, in the past seven years accidents involving Pawan Hans helicopters, including latest crash which killed ONGC executives, have claimed 36 lives.

Quoting an RTI query on Pawan Hans, the report added that in a span of three years (2014 to 2016), Pawan Hans had 38 "incidents".

"A high incident rate is an indicator of poor safety culture. It's never a result of failings of one department or a section of people," a senior helicopter commander was quoted as saying by The Times of India.

In 2015, a Pawan Hans chopper had crashed off Bombay High, an offshore oilfield 176 kilometres off the Mumbai coast. The helicopter, which was conducting night landing practice, was carrying two pilots. Only one body was found, NDTV  reported. The chopper had crashed despite one of the most experienced helicopter pilots in the world on board — Captain Eeso Samuel — who had more than 20,000 hours of flying and was one of the most experienced helicopter pilots in the world.

In 2011, a Pawan Hans helicopter carrying the then Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu and four others, crashed in the state's Tawang region, killing all on board, India Today had reported.

This Firstpost report from 2011 terming Pawan Hans a 'flying coffin' had said that on 19 April 2011 a Pawan Hans MI 17 helicopter had crashed seconds before touch down at the Tawang helipad killing 17 of the 23 people on board.

On 22 September, 2004, Meghalaya was witness to another tragedy involving a Pawan Hans when 10 people died in a crash, including, Meghalaya's chief minister's father-in-law. The blame was put on old helicopters.

What is the problem?

In a report published in 1989India Today had said that the shoe-string operation that Pawan Hans was running and the faulty choice of helicopter-was a recipe for disaster.

Blaming Pawan Hans' management for growing its operation too fast, the report had said that within two-and-a-half years of its inception - in August 1986 - Pawan Hans was operating a fleet of 42 helicopters from 14 stations, some of them located in the most inhospitable parts of the country.

Ironically, despite "being one of the most accident prove helicopter operators", Pawan Hans Limited in 2014 bagged an award for Operational Excellence in Golden Category for the year 2012-13. Not only this, Helicopter Association International (HAI) had conferred Pawan Hans with Operator Safety Award for the year 2014.

The government in 2015 had expressed concern over the rising number of crashes involving choppers of Pawan Hans. The then minister of state for civil aviation Mahesh Sharma had said that Pawan Hans had taken several remedial measures to improve safety.

Managerial mismanagement 

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), according to The Times of India report, had carried out an audit at the Andaman and Nicobar base of Pawan Hans four months ago, where a number of engineering and maintenance deficiencies were pointed out.

After which, the Pawan Hans top management had issued an order to replace the quality manager and air worthiness manager. However, both continue to hold the posts, added the report.

Here's what safety experts have to say 

After the latest crash, aviation safety experts have called for better precautionary measures by chopper services in the country, Indian Express said.

“The Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) prepares a report after every accident. Such reports sometimes fail to zero in on the exact cause of the accident. The nature of such accidents proves that no safety recommendation is followed,” Mohan Ranganathan, an aviation expert was quoted as saying by Indian Express

With inputs from agencies


Updated Date: Jan 15, 2018 15:04 PM

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