India pilots suspended over Bollywood dance performance to mark Holi on SpiceJet flight

An image from a video posted to YouTube shows a crew member on a SpiceJet flight from Goa to Bangalore, India, performing a Bollywood dance routine as the flight's first officer (at right) videotapes the performance, March 17, 2014. YouTube

DELHI -- While the world's attention has been fixed on the hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, two Indian pilots have been suspended for joining in with a preplanned airline publicity stunt and allegedly putting their flight's safety in jeopardy in the process.

The pilot and first officer of the March 17 SpiceJet airlines flight were suspended after the first officer left the cockpit to record the cabin crew's well-choreographed dance number on his cell phone.

Flight attendants danced in the aircraft's center aisle at 35,000 feet to mark Holi, the most raucous and colorful event on the Hindu religious calendar.

In a 3-minute video uploaded to YouTube, at least four SpiceJet crew members on the Goa to Bangalore flight are seen dancing to Bollywood hit "Balam Pichkari" while the first officer records the performance on a mobile phone near the cockpit door, which appears closed in the video.

India's aviation regulator said the pilots had endangered aircraft safety and created an "unruly environment." The regulator even threatened to suspend the airline's license, pending an investigation.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation sent a notice to SpiceJet saying the "cabin crew's acts had drawn the attention of other crew on duty, thus reducing their preparedness/alertness."

"The frequent movement of the dancing crew may have affected the aircraft's center of gravity during flight and created turbulence," added the Directorate.

Crews on five of SpiceJet's flight routes were performing the Bollywood number, "to liven up the journey for passengers on Holi festival," according to airline spokeswoman Priti Dey.

"We are looking together into the report in cooperation with the DGCA," Dey said, adding that the cockpit was manned at all times as per DGCA regulations. Pilots are permitted to leave the cockpit during flight, to use the bathroom, for instance.

"The dance was professionally choreographed and was a Holi delight for the passengers, much like it is done by several airlines around the world to celebrate special occasions. The entire dance sequence lasted only for 2.5 minutes," said Dey.

Budget Indian airlines often plan elaborate mid-flight spectacles, in part to make the journey memorable, and in hopes that videos of the performances will make their way onto social networking sites for some free publicity.

Sources said the airline suspended the first officer and the pilot for an indefinite period. The pilot did not leave the cockpit himself, but as the officer in charge, he permitted the first officer to leave the cockpit to film the dancing.

The airline had planned for this event and even carried extra cabin crew members to man the aircraft during the dance number. Generally there are four crew members on the flight, but the jets on which the dance was performed carried two extra, to compensate for some staff being temporarily distracted.

Filed by CBS News' Sanjay Jha

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