In one of the worst air disasters witnessed in Kerala, an Air India Vande Bharat flight, returning from Dubai, crashed at the Kozhikode airport. The crash left 17 of the 190 people aboard dead, including pilot Captain D.V. Sathe and his co-pilot Akhilesh Kumar.
The plane skidded off the runaway as it landed on its second attempt amid heavy rain. It plunged 35 feet into the valley below, and broke into two pieces.
Following the accident, the Kozhikode airport has been closed and the flights scheduled to land there have been diverted to Kannur airport (about 80 kilometres away.)
Expressing deep anguish over the incident, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said a formal enquiry will be conducted into the incident by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB).
According to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Air India Express AXB1344, with 190 people on board, landed on Runway 10 amid visibility of 2,000 metres in heavy rain, but overshot and nose-dived into the valley. Authorities in Kerala, however, said that there were 184 people on board, as five people who had a ticket did not board the aircraft.
According to the latest information collated from the various hospitals where the injured have been hospitalised, there are 123 who have been injured and the condition of 15 of them is serious.
Passenger Mohammed Ali had lost his job in Dubai and was returning home to Kozhikode with three of his friends on the flight. He said that they were watching the beautiful sight of Kozhikode town when the aircraft was getting ready to land.
“But suddenly, we felt the aircraft was going up again. Surprisingly, there was no announcement. Then it circled for about 15 minutes…. and then everything happened in a jiffy. It came down, and there was a noise. Soon, things came to a standstill and I managed to escape through the opening, landed on the wing and jumped off,” he explained.
“Then my fear was that it will go up in fire and hence, I ran. In the process, my leg and hip suffered an injury. I was one of the first people to be taken to a hospital. I’m now waiting for the doctor to come to take me for a scan. Otherwise, I am fine,” Ali added.
An eyewitness on the ground said that he rushed to the spot on hearing the sound of the crash.
“I live around 20 metres away from the compound wall of the airport. Hearing the loud sound, a few of us came rushing. We saw the cockpit of the aircraft jutting out of the compound wall,” the local resident said.
“We started to bang on the airport gate, but the CISF personnel did not open it. We saw a fire engine and an ambulance arriving after which the CISF personnel asked for help and we rushed inside. We rescued the children first and assisted several others also.”
Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan, who hails from the state, said the airport is a table top airport, and that was one reason why the plane plunged into the valley.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan about it. Table top airports have a disadvantage during rainy seasons,” said Muraleedharan. “Generally, during heavy rains, aircraft are not allowed to land at table top airports. All these things will come out in the DGCA probe.”