At least 18 people have been killed, while over a 100 injured after an Air India Express passenger plane overshot the runway at the Calicut International Airport, and split into two pieces after the skidding into the valley in Kozhikode, Kerala.
The Boeing-737 flight, from Dubai to Calicut was a repatriation flight as part of the Vande Bharat mission to bring back stranded Indians due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said that 18 people, including two pilots, have lost their lives. He said a total of 127 people are at various hospitals.
The plane was reportedly carrying 190 passengers and crew, including 10 infants.
As per initial investigations, the aircraft split into two pieces, with debris all over the area, which is reportedly just below the runway. The incident happened when the flight – IX 1344 – was attempting to land at the Calicut airport around 7.40 pm yesterday, amid heavy rainfall.
This major accident is the first one, after the 2010 plane crash at the Mangaluru airport which killed 158 people.
As per a flight tracking website, FlightRadar 24, the Air India Express, Boeing-737 800 made about two attempts to land. On its third attempt, the aircraft overshot the ‘table-top’ runway at the airport and fell around 35-feet down a slope, which resulted in the plane breaking into two parts.
The aircraft, luckily, did not catch fire, thus resulting in minimizing the casualties.
Southern India, including the state of Kerala has been witnessing heavy rains over the last few days, and this worsened the conditions to land at airport, officials said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his sympathies over this tragedy and said that he was ‘pained by the plane accident.’
The Calicut airport has a table-top runway, which means, it is constructed by clearing the top of a hill, and these runways are often tricky to land on because of lack of any side-line if one overshoots the runway.
The pilot – Wing Commander Deepak Vasant Sathe – was a former fighter pilot of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and an alumnus of the National Defence Academy (NDA). He was described as very experienced in flying Boeing 737 planes. The co-pilot, Captain Akhilesh Kumar was recently married last year.
Two special flights from Mumbai and Delhi with ‘humanitarian assistance’ for the injured passengers and their family members have been arranged.
Moreover, the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has said the aircraft’s black box has been recovered and that the plane’s floorboard is being cut to retrieve the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) for further investigations.
This accident is a wake-up call for aviation officials as nine years ago, Captain Mohan Ranganathan, a member of a safety advisory committee constituted by the ministry of civil aviation, had warned that the airport is unsafe and landing should not be allowed here, especially during wet conditions.
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will visit Karipur, the site of the Air India Express crash on Saturday (today).