The people of India mourn the tragic crash landing of Air India Express Boeing-737 plane at Calicut International Airport on Friday evening resulting in the death of more than a score of people, including the two brave pilots.
The plane, which was carrying 191 people of board, from Dubai, overshot the tabletop runway, broke into two pieces and fell 35 feet down a slope. Fortunately, the plane did not catch fire because of torrential rain, and the lives of most of the passengers were saved. The pilots tried twice to make a safe landing on the runway in heavy rain, but at the third attempt, it overshot the runway resulting in the mishap.
Most of the passengers were non-resident Keralites who were returning home as part of the ‘Vande Bharat’ repatriation mission due to COVID pandemic. According to experts, the aircraft was high on approach probably due to strong tailwinds, it landed beyond the touchpoint and overshot the tabletop runway.
The scale of the tragedy was lessened due to marathon efforts by local volunteers who rushed to the site in their vehicles, and started ferrying the injured people to hospitals. Local people, airport staff, firefighters, ambulance workers andsecurity personnel joined hands in carrying out rescue operations.
The saddest part of the tragedy was the death of both the pilots. Captain Deepak Vasant Sathe was a wing commander in the Indian Air Force from where he retired and joined Air India 10 years ago. A brilliant officer from National Defence Academy, Sathe passed out with a Sword of Honour in 1981. The other pilot Akhilesh Kumar also lost his life. Most of the survivors have praised the role of the two pilots who sacrificed their lives in order to save most of the passengers.
The air tragedy was similar to the air crash that took place on a tabletop runway in Mangalore airport ten years ago, in May 2010, in which 158 people died. A safety advisory committee was then formed after the air crash by the Director General of Civil Aviation to suggest ways and means to avoid such disasters.
The committee had then warned about unsafe landing conditions on tabletop runways in India during adverse weather conditions. There had been issues relating to “excessive deposits of rubber” on the runway, apart from finding cracks and stagnating water in several parts. Safety experts say, the committee’s warnings were ignored after the Mangalore air crash.
However, the Airports Authority of India chairman said on Saturday that the DGCA had some issues with the tabletop runway in 2015, but after resolving those issues, clearances were given last year. The AAI chief Arvind Singh said, that the pilots first tried to land on the runway where the aircraft was supposed to land, but after failing, they tried to land on another runway, where it crashed.
The Digital Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder of the ill-fated aircraft have been recovered and Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau has started its probe. Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri inspected the air crash site on Saturday. He described Captain Sathe as “one of our most experienced and distinguished commanders who landed on this airport runway at least 27 times in the past”. The minister said people must avoid speculating on the reasons of the crash as the cause of the air crash is being probed.
The Civil Aviation Minister announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the kin of those killed, Rs 2 lakh to those seriously injured and Rs 50,000 who have suffered minor injuries. The Kerala chief minister has also announced Rs 10 lakh assistance to the families of those killed.
Most of those killed in the crash were residents of Malappuram, Palakkad and Kozhikode districts of Kerala, who lived in the UAE. Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, in live interview on India TV on Friday night, praised the citizens of Kozhikode for rising to the occasion by reaching the crash site in their vehicles and helped in transporting the injured passengers to hospitals. Most of the seriously injured passengers have spinal injuries.
In this hour of grief, let us avoid making baseless speculations on the causes behind the crash and pray for early recovery of those injured. My thoughts are with the families of those who died in the air crash.