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159 dead in Air India Express crash

New Delhi. 159 Indians on board an Air India Express Boeing 737 died May 22nd morning when their aircraft overshot the runway in the southern Indian city of Mangalore.

There were seven survivors, some of whom miraculously jumped out when the body of the aircraft split, and fell into a valley below what is described as the table-top runway in the hilly terrain. Aircraft commander Z Glusica, a Serbian pilot with British passport, and co-pilot S S Ahluwalia, were among the dead along with four lady crew members.

The aircraft, a new Boeing 737-800, had taken off from Dubai as flight IX 812, around 0100 local time, and attempted to land at Mangalore at 0435 h (0600 Indian Standard Time). The pilot tried to abort the landing but the aircraft suffered a tyre burst due apparently to hard braking, and veered off slightly, hitting a radar pole.

The aircraft was nearly completely burnt.

The pilots had signaled no emergency and clearance for landing was given in routine.

Both the pilots were experienced. The exact cause of the crash would be determined from the aircraft’s black box, which is actually red in colour and stores all flight data. The black box was yet to be recovered.

There were no foreigners on board.

According to Civil Aviation minister Praful Patel, there were 160 passengers and six crew on board, totaling 166.

One of the survivors of the crash, a four-year old girl, died in hospital. Otherwise their number would have been eight.

The mandatory Court of Inquiry has been instituted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). Boeing announced that it is sending a team of experts to assist in the probe “at the invitation of the Indian authorities.”

Firemen and police personnel from the airport quickly began rescue operations, only to come across ghastly scenes of mangled bodies strew over a large area. In no time, 25 ambulances and over 20 fire tenders were involved in the frantic operation.

One of the survivors, Ummar Farooq, said the plane seemed to be on course for landing.

“Soon after it touched the runway, I heard a sound and saw smoke quickly fill the plane. Soon there was fire and all hell broke loose. A crack appeared on the plane’s body where I was seated. I immediately jumped out. Two or three people seated behind me also jumped out. I am hurt in my knees and suffered burns on my hands and face. As I fled from the aircraft, flames engulfed it,” he said.

Air India Express is the low cost arm of Air India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condoled the loss of lives in the air crash, and cancelled a dinner to mark one year of office of his government. Financial assistance to the families of those killed and injured was also announced.

© India Strategic