May 22, At least 158 people were killed Saturday when Air India Express flight 812 flying in from Dubai crashed while landing at Mangalore’s ‘table top’ airport surrounded by deep gorges and erupted in fire when it overshot the runway and plunged down a cliff.
Though it had been raining for two days, there was six-kilometer visibility with no wind when the Boeing 737, carrying 160 passengers including 19 children and four infants as well as six crew members attempted to land at 6.05 a.m., the civil aviation ministry said.
There was no distress call from the pilot, a British national of Serbian origin who had received due landing clearance about four miles from touchdown at the hilltop airport at Bajpe, about 20 km from here and 350 km from Karnataka’s capital Bangalore.
The aircraft, the ministry said, touched down the 2.45 km Runway 24 ‘slightly beyond the touchdown zone, overshot the runway and went in the valley beyond the runway’.
The Bajpe airport is considered one of the most difficult airports to land and take off from.
Piecing together eyewitness accounts, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Sadananda Gowda said the plane hit an instrument landing system and spun out of control before smashing into a ravine, breaking up and bursting into flames.
Only eight people, an infant included, survived. Some of the injured were in critical condition in Mangalore hospitals.
Most passengers were Indians, many returning home from Dubai where they worked. Among the survivors was Umar Farooq who told relatives about his miraculous escape: ‘Soon after it touched the runway, I heard a sound and saw smoke quickly fill the plane… 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.’
Air India Director Anup Srivastava said in Mumbai that eight passengers were rescued from the burning wreckage.
According to Airports Authority of India chairperson V.P. Aggarwal: ‘The aircraft was in good shape and there was no problem with it. There was no operational deficiency at Mangalore airport.’
Nearby villagers were among the first to rush the accident site but billowing flames kept them away. Rescue personnel came across ghastly scenes of mangled bodies strewn over a large area. Some charred bodies still had the seat belts on.
As firemen doused the flames, personnel took out bodies from the wreckage — each body had to be taken up the cliff that dropped away from the runway.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who cancelled a dinner at his residence to celebrate the first anniversary of his government second tenure, condoled the loss of lives and ordered compensation of Rs.200,000 for the families of the dead and Rs.50,000 for the injured.
A host of ministers rushed to Mangalore, a busy commercial and education centre. While Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel managed to reach Mangalore – the airport was closed in the morning but opened later in the day – Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa could not. He had to land midway at Hasan due to bad weather and went the rest of 110 km by car.
He said the operation to take out the bodies was likely to be over by the evening because of the difficult terrain.
This is the 11th major air accident involving Indian carriers or in the country’s air space since 1962, and the first since July 17, 2000 when an Alliance Air flight crashed at the Patna airport killing 60 people.
“It has been a hair raising experience and I am fortunate to be still alive,” says Umar Farooq, one of the lucky survivors of the fatal Air India aircraft crash here today. Farooq, who suffered burns on his face and hands, managed to jump out of the aircraft as it caught fire after one of its wings hit a hillock before landing at Kenjar near here.
He said the aircraft experienced turbulence and crashed in a forest area. “The aircraft was full.
But I don”t know the number of passengers on board”, he said, adding he heard a loud thud. There was a commotion after the aircraft caught fire and smoke engulfed it, he said, adding “I saw a broken passage in the aircraft and I jumped out of it”.
He said he walked for about half a kilometre inside the rocky terrain and locals who saw him took him on a motorcycle for some distance, before rushing him to a hospital by an autorickshaw. 160 passengers, including four infants, and 6 crew were on board the ill-fated plane.
Farooq is among the eight surviving passengers.
‘I saw the flight catching fire and heard the shrieks of my co-passengers inside the aircraft,’ said Krishnan, who survived by escaping through a gap in the broken Air India Express aircraft seconds after it crashed in Mangalore Saturday.
Krishnan, a Keralite, said the aircraft shook as it lost one of its tyres immediately after the landing.
‘The moment I felt the unnatural movement of the flight, it turned turtle and hit an object like a tree. I looked upward when sunshine hit my eyes and I saw a gap in the aircraft, which was broken,’ Krishnan said.
He said he removed the seat belt immediately and jumped out through the gap. ‘I felt that I was in a forest. I along with four others who also jumped out ran away,’ narrated Krishnan, who was admitted to a Mangalore hospital. ‘I submit everything to god,’ Krishnan said.
Details of crash plane:
The twin-engined Boeing 737 is the world’s most widely sold family of planes and has been in service since 1968.
The 737-800 is a “next-generation” variant in use since 1998. Air India Express owns 18 of these planes.
The crashed plane first flew in December 2007.
Passenger capacity (typical 2-class) 162
Flight crew 2
Length 129 feet 6 inches (39.5 metres)
Wing span 112 feet 7 inches (34.3 metres)
Interior cabin width 11 feet 7 inches (3.53 metres)
Emergency exits: 8
(2 in the front, 4 in the middle, 2 in the back)
Range 3,060 nautical miles/5,665 kilometres
Engines Two CFM56-7 engines
(Engines made by CFM International, a joint venture
between General Electric of the United States
and Snecma, part of French group Safran.)
First delivery 1998
Total deliveries to airlines (to end-April 2010) 1,894
Aircraft still on order 1,345
List price $66-75 million
AIRCRAFT SAFETY RECORD
Saturday’s crash at Mangalore is the worst accident involving the 737-800, according to the Flight Safety Foundation, which runs an accident-tracking website (www.aviation-safety.net)
In 2006 a Gol-operated 737-800 collided in mid-air with a business jet, killing 154 people, and in 2007 a Kenya Airways 737-800 nose-dived into the ground shortly after take-off at Douala airport in Cameroon, killing 114.