Pilots and Cabin Crew Brawl at 30,000ft After Flight Attendant Claims She Was Molested

Daily Mail (London), October 5, 2009

A brawl erupted between the pilots and cabin crew on an Air India flight at 30,000ft after a stewardess accused a co-pilot of sexual harassment.

The scuffle spilled from the cockpit into the galley of the Airbus A320, which was allegedly left unmanned.

The pilot of the flight from United Arab Emirates to Delhi threatened to land the plane in Pakistan.

Crew members threw punches and hurled abuse at each other in full view of 106 passengers.

Air India said it had grounded two pilots and two crew members over the incident, which happened at about 4.30am local time on Saturday and police are investigating the incident.

It is not clear how the fight began, but it is believed to have stemmed from an angry exchange during the pre-flight briefing at Sharjah airport in the UAE.

Police in Delhi said that a 24-year-old stewardess accused one of the flight deck crew of trying to molest her and of pushing her out of the cockpit when she resisted.

Officers said that they had registered a case against two pilots–identified as Commander Ranbeer Arora and Captain Aditya Chopra–on suspicion of committing ‘assault or use of criminal force against a woman with intent to outrage her modesty’.

But the Times of India newspaper said the pilots made a counter-claim, saying that the alleged incident was an attempt to divert attention from accusations of misconduct against a male flight attendant.

A spokesman for Air India said: ‘The incident of a scuffle between the two pilots and cabin crew members of [flight] IC-884 was reported [Saturday] morning.

‘As there have been claims and counter-claims between the parties involved, the management has ordered an inquiry, which is still in progress. Further action will be decided based on the inquiry report.’

Satyendera Garg, the Joint Commissioner of Police, said that the hostess had suffered bruises and injuries on her hand and a medical examination had confirmed that she was assaulted.

The mid-air brawl came three days after the Government had to intervene to end a four-day strike by Air India’s senior pilots which grounded its entire fleet and caused havoc across the country.

The Government overrode the company’s plan for a steep cut in wages for its best-paid employees to try to reduce accumulated losses of around £1.8 billion.

A week earlier, another Air India flight from the city of Amritsar to London had to be delayed by several hours after passengers noticed a rat on board.

The airline is also being challenged in the Supreme Court by nine air hostesses it dismissed in January for being overweight.

It is under fire, too, for having given free tickets to senior managers’ spouses, children, parents, brothers, sisters, and sons and daughters-in-law for more than a decade.

Manmohan Singh, India’s Prime Minister, pledged to support the airline in June, but also insisted that it undergo massive restructuring.

Air India employs about 32,000 people–twice as many as it needs to operate–and critics believe that the only way to make it more efficient is to privatise it.

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