On the day a Malaysia Airlines jet with 295 people on board was shot down near the Russian border in Ukraine, an Air India inquiry revealed that its pilot showed exemplary presence of mind and skill to avert an "aviation catastrophe" two days ago.

On Tuesday, a Mumbai-bound Air India flight from New Jersey was forced to return to the Newark airport following a fire in the engine. The plane — a Boeing 777-300 which had 313 people on board — was 85 tonnes over the maximum design landing weight but the captain, Gautam Verma, and his team managed a successful landing on a single engine, after spotting flames shooting from the other engine, an Air India preliminary inquiry said.

READ ALSO: Mumbai-bound Air India flight from US lands safely after bird strike

Senior Air India officials said that the leftside engine had malfunctioned, even as the US authorities initially blamed the problem on bird-hit.
"While the takeoff run was normal, the loss of an engine at maximum take off weight occurred during the climb. It was a massive challenge for the pilots as cockpit engine fire warnings had failed as well," an Air India official said.
The tyres of Mumbai-bound Air India flight were damaged while landing
Erika Dumas, spokesperson of the port authority that operates the Newark Liberty International Airport, said that the pilots were instructed to first reach a designated altitude and dump fuel before landing. However, captain Verma decided on immediate landing.

"The time to get to the dumping height and area could have taken 15 to 30 minutes and the actual fuel dump would have taken another 30 to 40 minutes. The entire exercise would have lasted 70 minutes, and they didn't have such time," an official said.

According to the preliminary inquiry report, the pilots were forced to land the aircraft at much higher speed, and there was danger of it overshooting the runway. "The plane landed at around 370 kmph, which is around 100 kmph higher than usual," an airline official said. Capt G K Bakshi, a former Air Force and Air India pilot with over 40 years of flying experience, said the pilots averted a "possible catastrophe".

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"The pilots had to take an instant decision. The handling skills and good airmanship displayed by the pilots was the reason such emergency didn't turn into a huge tragedy," Bakshi said.

Cabin crew stranded without money

While the passengers were accommodated on other Air India flights, the 12 cabin crew members have been forced to remain in Newark. The crew members have conveyed to the Air India top brass that they had run out of money, and have asked for 'complimentary meals'. The Air India chairman and managing director, Rohit Nandan, was not available for comment.

Aditya Anand,Mumbai Mirror | Jul 18, 2014, 05.18 PM IST