Mangalore: An Air India Express airliner crashed outside Mangalore airport in Karnataka on Saturday, killing 158 people when it burst into flames after overshooting a table-top runway and plunging into forest below.
There were eight survivors after the Boeing 737-800, which had come from Dubai with 166 people on board including six crew members, appeared to skid off the runway in rain, Air India director Anup Srivastava said. At least 146 bodies had been recovered, said M. Nambiar, a top official in the Civil Aviation ministry.
"We had no hope to survive, but we survived," Pradeep, a survivor who is an Indian technician working in Dubai, said. "The plane broke into two and we jumped off the plane. As soon as the plane landed, within seconds this happened."
Local television showed a fireman carrying what seemed to be the remains of a child from the smoking wreckage. Charred bodies lay in the forested terrain. All the passengers were Indian nationals, an Air India official in Dubai said. Many were likely Indian migrant workers in Dubai. The pilot was Serbian and said to be very experienced.
Air India Express is the budget arm of the loss-ridden state-run carrier Air India, which has been fending off growing competition from private airlines.
The flight's black box has been recovered, the United Arab Emirates state news agency WAM said. But Air India official Nambiar said the search for the flight data recorder was still going on.
The crash appeared to be an accident, Indian officials said. One TV report said the plane hit a radar pole on landing.
"There was no distress indication from the pilot. That means between the pilot and the airport communication there was no indication of any problem," V.P. Agarwal, director of Airports Authority of India, told local television.
Indian officials said the plane crashed around 6 a.m. (0030 GMT). TV images showed it struck a forested area, and flames were blazing from the wreckage as rescue workers fought to bring the fire under control.
"While landing at the airport, the plane deviated and hit something," said Krishna, another survivor. "It caught fire and we fell out. We looked up and saw some opening and came out through that route."
It was India's first major crash in a decade, which has seen a boom in private carriers amid growing demand from India's middle class. A series of near misses at major airports, including Delhi and Mumbai, have sparked debate about how India's creaking infrastructure was failing to keep pace with an economic boom.
Law Minister Veerappa Moily told CNN-IBN that he had opened a new runway at Mangalore airport just 10 days ago. The ill-fated Air India airliner was two years old. Boeing said in a statement it was sending a team to provide technical assistance to the crash investigation.
The last major crash in India was in July 2000 when an Alliance Air Boeing 737-200 crashed into a residential area during a second landing attempt in Patna, killing at least 50 people.
With growing competition from private carriers, the Indian government agreed to inject $1.1 billion into Air India if the ailing state-run carrier came up with the same amount in cost cuts and extra revenue. The airline lost $875 million in the fiscal year ended March 2009.
Hundreds of Air India pilots went on strike in September 2009 to protest at management plans to cut pay incentives. The strike was called off when aviation minister Praful Patel said the grievances would be dealt with.
Mangalore Helpline Numbers: 0824-2220422, 0824-2220424
Delhi Helpline Numbers: 011-25656196, 011-25603101
Air India Express Dubai Airport Telephone Numbers: 00971-4-2165828/00971-4-2165829
Bangalore Helpline Numbers: 080-66785172/ 080-22273310.
Mumbai Helpline Numbers: 022 2279 6161.
Chennai Helpline Numbers: 044-22561365, 044-22560894
Police officials say that rescue and relief operations are on and the survivors have been admitted to the hospitals.
"Some people have been shifted to hospitals. Although if they will survive is unsure. They are being treated. This is a highly unfortunate event. The police force, bomb squad, fire force, KSRP and all the hospitals are working unitedly to help out in this situation. We are doing the best we can," said Karnataka Western Range Inspector General of Police Gopal B Hosur.
The names of the seven survivors are: Putturismail Abdulla, Joel Pratap D'Souza, GK Pradeep, Krishnan Koolikkunnu, Mayankutty KP, Ummer Farook Mohammed, Sabrina Nasrinhuq.
The firefighters have reached the spot and efforts are on to rescue the survivors. It is also learnt that because of the hilly terrain, the firefighters could not reach the accident site immediately. Twenty-five ambulances have also been rushed to the spot.
The Central Industrial Security Force has sent 150 personnel to Mangalore to help in the relief and rescue operations.
Initial investigations reveal that the plane landed about 2000 feet away from the touch down point on the runway. The total length of the runway at Mangalore airport is 8038 feet. The pilot was a Serbian expatriate Captain Zlatko Glusica, while the co-pilot was SS Ahluwalia. Glusica (55) had 10,000 hours of flying experience, an official said. Both the pilots were based in Mangalore.
ATC sources say there was no distress signal from the pilot of the plane.
The entire area around Kenjar village near the crash site and the airport has been cordoned off.
Sources in Air India tell CNN-IBN that the length of the runway is comparatively small but the cause of the accident is yet to be ascertained but the weather factor cannot be ruled out.
Meanwhile, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation has ordered an inquiry into the crash. The Mangalore-Dubai route is a heavy density route.
The airport is at Bajpe, which is about 30 km from Mangalore. It is situated in a hilly area and is considered one of the most difficult airports to take off and land. The area has also been experiencing heavy rains for the last two days due to Cyclone Laila.
(With inputs from Agencies)
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