On Thursday evening, six hours after trying to contact his brother on the phone, Gopal Dubey arrived at the postmortem ward of Mumbai’s Rajawadi Hospital. He strongly believed that Govind Dubey died when a chartered aircraft crashed into a construction site in the eastern neighbourhood of Ghatkopar shortly after 1 pm.
The police had retrieved five bodies from the crash site. Four of the dead – two pilots and two aircraft maintenance engineers – were on board the Beechcraft King Air C90 plane, which had taken off from nearby Juhu airport for a test flight, said the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. The fifth person, Gopal Dubey suspects, is his brother.
Govind Dubey was at the construction site measuring windows to be fitted for glass panes. “He usually works in Thane but today he came to Ghatkopar to take the measurements,” Gopal Dubey said. “His employer showed him the site and left. Govind died when the plane fell from the sky.”
The Dubeys are construction workers from Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh.
At Rajawadi Hospital in Ghatkopar, doctors performing the autopsies said the bodies are charred beyond recognition. Though relatives are trying to identify the dead from their personal effects, the police have recommended DNA tests. The hospital later called for help from a forensic odontologist, who identifies bodes by examining the its teeth using X-rays.
Not far from the autopsy centre, Kaushal Nishad was muttering curses to himself. He is the supervisor at the construction site. His nephew Naresh Nishad and another labourer, Lavkush Kumar, were severely burnt in the flames that accompanied the crashed aircraft. They are being treated at Rajawadi Hospital.
“It was raining so we had little work today,” Kaushal Nishad said. “We were all in the basement having lunch when we heard the loud noise. More people would have been killed otherwise.”
He held himself responsible for bringing Naresh and his wife from Chhattisgarh to work in Mumbai.
The supervisor said the workers broke for lunch at 1 pm but his nephew and Lavkush Kumar decided to complete their pending work first. Lying in a hospital bed in the evening, Kumar recalled hearing a noise and seeing flames. “It was like there was a blast and a huge fire erupted,” he said.
Naresh Nishad’s face is “completely burnt”, said Dr Vidya Thakur, the hospital’s superintendent. “He is in a state of shock and unable to recall anything,” she said, but added that his condition is stable.
Kumar and Naresh Nishad share the trauma ward with Prashant Mahakal, 24, an engineer who lives near the construction site. He had rushed to the site to help, only to get injured himself. His friend Rahul Chavan said Mahakal stumbled on the wreckage and hurt his leg.
Marya Zuberi, 47, a resident of Mira Road in nearby Thane district was the crashed plane’s co-pilot. She is survived by her husband, Prabhat Kathuria, and a daughter. Kathuria said the aircraft, owned by UY Aviation, was on a test flight, which is conducted by a team of experts to check the airworthiness of the plane. “These are risky flights as the aircraft could have some problems which they won’t anticipate,” he said.
In her Facebook profile, Zuberi called herself Marya Wings, her husband said, because she loved flying.
The aircraft was piloted by Pardeep Rajput.
Rajput and Zuberi were accompanied on board by technicians Surbhi Gupta and Manish Pandey, both from Lucknow. Gupta’s husband Brijesh Gupta is also a pilot and they were married about a year ago. Gupta’s autopsy showed that she was pregnant, although it will only be confirmed by a histopathology examination.
‘Ball of fire’
Malathy Bhanushali, a housewife in Ghatkopar, heard “a low noise and within seconds a loud noise”. She looked out her window and saw giant flames leaping up into the sky. She ran out to see what had happened and found “many people had gathered”.
Praveen Shah, who stays in the lane adjacent to the construction site, was driving his son when he saw the plane coming down. “In a few seconds, it turned into a ball of fire,” said Shah.