Updated: August 8, 2020 6:38:07 am
At least 17 people were killed, including the pilot and co-pilot, and around 100 injured when an Air India Express flight from Dubai skidded off the table-top runway in Kozhikode on Friday evening. The aircraft, with 190 people on board, was attempting to land in bad weather when it shot the runway around 7.40 pm and split into two after nosediving into a valley 35 feet below. In a statement, the DGCA said, “Visibility was 2,000 metres and there was heavy rain.” It said the flight, IX-1344, shot runway 10. Rescue operations, which went on till 11 pm, are over.
An air traffic control official at Kozhikode airport said, “It had been raining incessantly for several hours. The flight went around the airport twice and then tried to land.” He said luckily the aircraft, which took off from Dubai at 2 pm and was scheduled to land in Kozhikode at 7.27 pm, didn’t catch fire. “We immediately started rescue efforts with the support of local people.”
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Deepak Vasanth Sathe, who died along with co-pilot Akhilesh Kumar, was a former Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force and had served with its flight testing wing. Officials said he had also flown often to the Kozhikode sector. Those on board included 10 children and six crew members, Malappuram District Collector K Gopalakrishnan said. “The injured have been admitted to hospitals in Kozhikode and Malappuram. Of the 110 admitted in Kozhikode, 11 died, while of the 80 taken to Malappuram district, six died.”
Gopalakrishnan said the rescue efforts were delayed due to the leak of fuel from the aircraft. “We had to control the leak (to prevent fire) before rescuing persons from the tail end of the aircraft… Everyone has been shifted to hospitals.”
Taxi driver R Rajan, who was one of the first to reach the spot, said he saw passengers trapped inside and luggage strewn around. “Fire units at the airport, the CISF, taxi drivers and local people led the rescue in the initial hours. We were told to help,” he said.
With the town nearest to the airport, Kondotti in Malappuram district, a Covid-19 containment zone, its two private hospitals had only skeletal staff. Following an alert from the Malappuram district administration, both the hospitals were made fully operational to receive the injured. Later, the seriously injured were shifted to Government Medical College Hospitals in Manjeri and Kozhikode, and three private hospitals in Kozhikode.
Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja said the condition of a mother and child was very serious.
Kondotti Municipal Councillor M Shafi said, “Disregarding Covid-19 restrictions, scores of people helped in the rescue. As distress messages went around, ambulances rushed in from Kozhikode and Malappuram districts,’’ he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed pain over the tragedy and said he had spoken with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said relief teams from Air India and the Airports Authority of India were being dispatched from Delhi and Mumbai. He ordered a probe by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau.
The Air India Express is a wholly owned subsidiary of Air India. While international passenger flights remain suspended since March 23 due to the coronavirus, since May 6, Air India and Air India Express have been running repatriation flights to help stranded people reach their destinations under the Vande Bharat Mission.
An Air India Express spokesperson said they were setting up help centres in Sharjah and Dubai. Indian consulates there have also set up helplines.
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