Kerala’s rain fury on Friday climaxed when an Air India Express flight from Dubai to Kozhikode -- with 191 people on board -- skid off a table-top runway while landing in bad weather.
The aircraft plummeted 30 to 50 feet into a valley and on impact split into two halves. The crew bore the brunt with both pilots, including Captain DV Sathe, perishing in the mishap. There were at least 12 more deaths – all of them passengers. Four passengers were believed to be buried under the debris.
Several other passengers – about 45, who were mostly sitting in the front -- are badly injured; the aircraft had split near the base of the cockpit. They have been admitted to various hospitals in the city. The passengers were mostly Kozhikode residents and NRIs returning on a Vande Bharat mission.
The plane had 184 passengers on board. In fact, 189 passengers had bookings but five of them did not board. The passengers included 10 children below five years of age. The rescued included an infant, who is safe but has been separated from his parents, as they have been admitted to one of the hospitals.
The cockpit is damaged beyond recognition. It is believed that the pilot could not see the runway due to the heavy rain. The wings of the plane hit the airport boundary wall and broke.
Rescue operations were hampered by heavy rain as ambulances from various hospitals in the city made a beeline to transport the injured. Luckily, the fire did not engulf the entire plane, probably due to the heavy rain. Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja said all 108 ambulances in Kozhikode and Malappuram have been rushed to the airport. The Kozhikode Collector said relatives of passengers on board the flight could contact the helpline 0495-2376901 for inquiruies.
The accident was very similar to the one that occurred at another table top airport at Mangalore ten years ago, when an Air India Express plane from Dubai hit a mount and caught fire, killing 158 passengers.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Chief Minister Vijayan on phone. Sources in Air India said a relief aircraft is on standby from Delhi to Mumbai and is waiting for the weather to clear up.