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MAI plane in near miss with Air India jet at Gaya airport

File photo of MAI and Air India airliners at Singapore's Changi Airport. (Photo: Wikimedia)

A disaster was narrowly averted on Wednesday when a Myanmar Airways International (MAI) airliner strayed onto a runway at the airport in the Indian city of Gaya just minutes before an Air India flight was due to land.

The MAI flight bound for Rangoon was preparing to take off at around 3pm when it entered the runway without clearance from air-traffic controllers.

According to a report by India’s Times Now news channel, the Air India jet touched down about a minute after the MAI plane was called back to the apron area.

It was unclear what caused the potentially deadly confusion, but both flights — MAI’s 8M602 and Air India’s AI236 — were flying the same Gaya-Rangoon route.

The Airport Authority of India is investigating the incident, the Times Now report said.

Gaya, a city in the impoverished state of Bihar with a population of less than half a million people, is a major travel destination for Burmese tourists. It is located about 11 km from the religious site of Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment.

It was visited by former dictator Senior-General Than Shwe in July 2010, months before elections that heralded the end of direct military rule.

In July 2013, it was the target of a series of bomb blasts that injured two Buddhist monks, including one from Burma.

MAI began flying direct to Gaya in October 2009, dramatically increasing the number of Buddhist pilgrims visiting the Indian holy site.