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Explained: Why the Air India crash would have been much worse had the aircraft caught fire

With evacuation efforts being hindered by the fire, the chances of survival decrease significantly.

Written by Pranav Mukul , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: August 10, 2020 10:12:01 am
kerala plane crash, air india plane crash, kozhikode air plane crash, kerala plane crash news, kozhikode air india plane crash, air india news, air india plane crash today, air india plane accident, air india aircraft crash news Officials inspect the site where a passenger plane crashed when it overshot the runway at the Calicut International Airport in Karipur, in Kerala, August 8, 2020. (Reuters Photo)

Even as investigations are underway, the primary difference between the Mangalore crash of an Air India Express aircraft in 2010 and the one in Kozhikode on Friday evening was that there was no post-crash fire in the latter incident. This minimised the casualties at Kozhikode.

What are the causes for a post-crash fire?

An aircraft is usually carrying large quantities of highly inflammable aviation turbine fuel, which is stored in tanks in its belly and two wings. When an aircraft makes an uncontrolled impact with the ground or an object, the structural damage to the hull could cause the tanks to rupture, leading to leakage of fuel or oil, which, if sparked off, could result in an explosive fire. Additionally, a fire can also be ignited in case the aircraft is carrying goods that are flammable, such as batteries and chemicals.

What happens when there is a post-crash fire?

When an aircraft is engulfed in flames after crash-landing, it becomes all the more difficult for people on board to evacuate the plane. It also restricts the ability of first responders to carry out the evacuation process.

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Given that most modern airliners carry large amounts of fuel, whenever the cockpit crew foresees a problem with the aircraft, such as engine failure or landing gear problem — something that could lead to an unusual landing — the Air Traffic Control informs emergency services, including the fire brigade, to expect a fire. Plus, the pilots attempt to jettison the fuel before a crash landing.

Don’t miss from Explained | Air India Express plane crash explained: Tabletop runway a challenge, no fire was saving grace

Do chances of survivors decrease when a plane catches fire after a crash?

With evacuation efforts being hindered by the fire, the chances of survival decrease significantly. This was exemplified at the crash of a Russian passenger jet in May 2019, which was carrying 78 people on board. The aircraft crashed shortly after taking off — meaning it was fuelled up for the flight — after suffering an electrical failure. At least 41 of the 78 people on board died because of the fire that followed the crash.

Also read | Why black boxes are important to an air crash investigation

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