New Delhi: The Air Traffic Controller asked the pilot, “Okay, so you want to do the VNAV approach into Newark. Is that correct?”

The Air India commander-in-chief ― the main pilot in lay man's term ― replied back, saying, "Uh…That's right because that's the only option that we have because uh…you know this ILS is unpredictable because every time we turn towards the localised, it's just gone”.

The ATC asks again, “ Okay, so your ILS is out of service on both sides of your aeroplane, right?”

The chief pilot responds, rather ominously, “Yeah, that's correct”.

VNAV and ILS are jargon for aspects of the communication between the Air Traffic Control and the pilot of Air India flight number 101. The pilot here is complaining about nuanced technical problems. He is finding it tough to manoeuvre the flight and finally land with 370 passengers on board, oblivious of what’s happening inside the cockpit. ILS or Instrument Landing System is the single most important instrument available to a pilot to help him or her to align the aircraft with the runway.

Nightmare? Probably that’s an understatement.

That's just a slice of conversation between Air India 101 and the ATC. The conversation tape that is in exclusive possession of MyNation, describes the terrible situation the pilot faced, flying that Boeing 777 ― a very reliable and sophisticated aircraft, otherwise. 

Interestingly, the date was 9/11 when this Delhi - New York flight experienced multiple system failures. The ILS wasn’t working. The situation compounded by rough weather. If that was not bad enough, there was limited fuel on the flight. There was only a single-source radio altimeter that was functioning. The terrain collision avoidance system had failed.

To put things into perspective, it's like driving a car with unreliable brakes and low fuel in rough weather. 

In fact, at one point, the pilot is heard complaining about the lack of auto speed brake and unserviceable APU (Auxiliary Power Unit). Simply put, the instrumentations needed for a safe landing were not available to the pilot. The pilot at one point says, “We are really, you know, stuck.”

In fact, the low-altitude alert was sounded by the ATC. But the pilot kept his composure, his voice devoid of any panic in the face of a possibility as ominous as this. At one point, the ATC is heard saying they wished he could do more for him.

Thankfully, in spite of such multiple failures, fuel shortage and rough weather, Air India Flight 101 landed safely on a substitute airport in Newark. Air India has confirmed the incident, stating that the flight safety division is investigating what went wrong.

But what doesn’t need an investigation is the finesse with which the pilot handled the situation, saving 370 passengers on board from an almost certain catastrophe.