New Delhi: Two days after reports emerged that Air India pilots had received unexpected praise from a Pakistani air traffic controller (ATC) in Karachi for operating emergency flights during the Covid-19 pandemic, an open-source intelligence (OSINT) handle has put out data contradicting the reports.
The report, published by news agency ANI and also carried by ThePrint Saturday, said the Karachi ATC had a word of praise for the Indian pilots who operated special flights to Frankfurt, carrying relief materials and evacuating European nationals stranded in India.
“It was a very proud moment for me as well as the entire Air India crew when we heard from Pakistan ATC praising our special flight operations to Europe,” ANI quoted as saying a senior captain who handled one of the special flights.
NDTV then followed up on the story, also speaking to Air India.
However, popular OSINT handle @hukum2082 put out a series of tweets, including voice clips from the Karachi ATC, which showed there was no exchange of praise.
It is not often that a news article gets stuck in your mindspace.With #COVID19 spreading a pall of gloom ; new infections , deaths , ventilators , PPE and above all #China dominates every piece of breaking news
Images from @JetPhotos https://t.co/8L5DoKcD2g pic.twitter.com/3ip8CFskMm
— Hukum 😷 (@hukum2082) April 5, 2020
The clip procured from Live ATC, a website that focuses on ATC recordings, made it clear that it was a regular and professional exchange of communication between the Karachi ATC and the Air India pilots.
The OSINT handle was retweeted by former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash, saying: “Most impressed by your investigative skills & perseverance in tracking down this ANI ‘coup’ to its logical dead-end. COMINT expertise inherited from father?”
Most impressed by your investigative skills & perseverance in tracking down this ANI ‘coup’ to its logical dead-end. COMINT expertise inherited from father? https://t.co/FmRn57vzzD
— Arun Prakash (@arunp2810) April 6, 2020
Speaking to ThePrint, ‘Hukum’, who did not want to reveal his real identity, said he was surprised by the reports of praise by the Karachi ATC.
“I actually wanted to substantiate the story with recordings of the ATC. I spent about eight hours listening to the records that are available on live ATC website. I found that there was no such exchange as the media reports suggested,” he said.
ANI stands by report
ANI Editor Smita Prakash, however, stood by the report published by the news agency.
“These OSINT chaps have been off the mark in the past as well. Our aviation reporter has an impeccable track record, and we stand by him,” Prakash told ThePrint.
“We spoke to the senior Air India captain who recounted the entire sequence of events, and a joint secretary in the Ministry of Civil Aviation has confirmed this as well,” she said.
She also shared the snapshot of a LinkedIn post by Joint Secretary, Civil Aviation, Amber Dubey.
Prakash added: “ThePrint has good reporters on the ground, maybe you should do some reporting and ask Air India their version… If they deny it, we will gladly retract the story. Side note, other media organisations also spoke to the captain and did a similar story.”
‘ATC could’ve used a different channel’
Sources in the civil aviation ministry told ThePrint that the pilot did not speak to the media, but had mentioned the incident to certain people in a debriefing.
The sources said the pilot has years of experience, and will not say anything just to gain publicity.
A pilot with a different airline, who did not wish to be identified, added that the ATC could have also communicated on a different channel if needed.
Joint Secretary Dubey’s has also not removed his LinkedIn post.