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Plane did not slide, took off cliff, collapsed: CISF officer on last minutes of Air India flight

Kerala Air India Express plane crash: “There was no sound before the crash. The endpoint of the runway is parallel to the entrance of the perimeter gate from where we could see any flight take off or land,” CISF Assistant Sub-Inspector Ajith Singh said.

Written by Rahul V Pisharody | Hyderabad | Updated: August 11, 2020 6:52:03 pm
CISF Assistant Sub-Inspector Ajith Singh spoke about the final minutes of Air India Express that crashed in Kerala on Friday (Screengrab)

“No, the plane did not slide 35-feet down the hill.” CISF Assistant Sub-Inspector Ajith Singh, who was on duty as Kozhikode Airport’s Gate Number 8, had this to say about the final minutes of Air India Express AI-IX1344: “I saw it slightly take off from the cliff and then collapse on to the road, just 15 feet away from our post. All of it happened in less than 4 seconds.”

At 7.40 pm on August 7, when the Air India Express aircraft from Dubai was about to land at the airport in Karippur, the 31-year-old Singh was talking to ASI Mangal Singh at the duty post, as part of perimeter patrolling duties. “There was no sound before the crash. The endpoint of the runway is parallel to the entrance of the perimeter gate from where we could see any flight take off or land,” Singh told indianexpress.com.

“I have seen flights take off and land for the last five years. This one did not slide down. Had it slid down, the body of the plane would have broken mid-way and you could find debris on the hill slope. It did not happen that way.”

READ | His last photo from Air India Express plane: ‘Back to home’

Singh, who hails from Badaun in Uttar Pradesh, has spent the last five years of his six-year-long service in CISF at Kozhikode airport. From control room duty to the security hold area (SHA) duty, he has worked in every department. On Friday, he was on PTL duty and was in charge of patrolling the perimeter wall.

“I was on B-shift that day. It was raining incessantly. So before finishing my duty at 9 pm, I took my bike and went around the 9-km perimeter area to check for any wall or fencing intrusions,” he said.

As the plane crashed near the road, making a thundering noise, the area near the cockpit separated and slid down further crashing into the perimeter wall at a distance. The ASI alerted the airport control room and also the CISF barracks, just a kilometer away. The accident site is around 3 kilometer from the airport terminal.

READ | Air India Express plane crash explained: Tabletop runway a challenge, no fire was saving grace

kerala air crash, kerala plane crashlanding, kozhikode airport plane skid off, kerala tabletop airport Rescue operation at Kozhikode airport after an Air India Express flight with passengers on board en route from Dubai skidded off the runway while landing, at Karippur (PTI)

“In 2-4 minutes, a few locals had come to the site. And in no time, we had 20-25 more people and an earthmover machine at the gate. Our QRT (quick response team), our CISF bachelor party, and the airport fire services had also reached by then,” said Singh, adding that the public was very supportive.

Along with him, three or four locals entered the wing area of the plane where maximum damage, according to him, had happened. The interior lights of the aircraft were still on and some unhurt passengers were helping themselves out. “I had four-five locals with me inside while some others waited at the emergency exit. People were crying for help. There were many children too. We had to use cutters to remove those crushed in between seats,” he recalled.

It did not cross their minds that the highly inflammable aviation fuel could have been leaking and a spark could explode the plane or that at least some of the passengers could be positive cases of COVID-19. “A plane after a crash is a ticking bomb. We could all have died.”

READ | Authorities look to revive plan to extend Kozhikode airport runway

Kerala flight crash, Kozhikode plane crash, Plane crash injured, Kondotty hospital doctor, Doctor on Kerala plane crash, kerala news, India news, Indian express Remains of the Air India Express flight at the airport in Karippur, Kozhikode. (Express photo by Vishnu Varma)

Interestingly, during the rescue efforts Singh’s patrolling bike went missing. “Someone had taken it since I had left the key on it at the time of the incident. I was worried about a court of inquiry for losing my official bike,” he said. “To my surprise, whoever had taken it left it at the same place the next day. I believe some local people must have used it during the rescue operation.”

Commending the crucial rule played by local youths in the rescue operations, CISF Airports Sector (South West) IG CV Anand said over phone from Bengaluru that lives of around 45 passengers who were critically injured could be saved only because they could be shifted to hospitals immediately. “It was dark, raining heavily, and indeed a very challenging operation,” he said. “Soon after the incident people living around the perimeter wall were at the gate. With our 15-20 personnel who had reached initially, these 20 residents played a very big role in shifting all injured to hospital during the golden hour.”

Around 30 CISF personnel are in self-quarantine after the rescue efforts. The Director-General of CISF Rajesh Ranjan has announced the award of D-G’s Commendation Disc to three officers for showing prompt and outstanding efforts in saving lives of people during rescue operations post plane crash. The Deputy Commandant and Chief Airport Security Officer (CASO) Kishore Kumar AV, ASI Ajit Singh, and ASI Mangal Singh will receive the honour.

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