Despite the heavy rain and overcoming fears of the pandemic, hundreds of local residents rushed to where the Air India Express aircraft had finally come to rest, and few meters away from the Kozhikode airport’s runway in Karippur.
“I heard two loud thuds and thought it was thunder. However, as screaming and calls for help became louder, we ran out, without wearing gloves or masks,” Fazal Puthiyakath, a first responder, told indianexpress.com. The 32-year-old Kondotty resident remembers seeing the aircraft, split at the middle and the cockpit rammed against one of the airport’s outer walls, when they reached the site.
“We did not have time to think about the rain or the virus at large, only saving lives mattered then,” added Puthiyakath, who is now in quarantine along with his friends.
Labeeb Pookkottur, one of the rescue volunteers, said that active participation and quick thinking of the airport authorities played a crucial role in getting the passengers out. “Most of the passengers had their legs stuck between the seats and some of the airport authorities, with their experience, guided the locals in how to get them out,” he told indianexpress.com.
Pookkottur, who is a coordinator at the COVID First-Line Treatment Center (CFLTC), said all the passengers were rescued in two-and-a-half hours.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan also lauded the ‘fast response’ of locals in rescuing passengers, braving inclement weather and COVID-19 fears, “which made all the difference.”
Talking about the selfless intervention of the locals, Dr Shimna Azeez shared a post on Facebook thanking the rescue workers, but also urging them to go into 14-day isolation in view of the COVID-19 situation at the crash site.
“All I have to say to all the rescue workers at the Karipur airport is that, please sign up for 14 days of isolation. Do not interact with those immunocompromised at home.”
Facebook user Davin Dev shared his experience meeting a first responder at the site. “I saved 37 people with these hands,” Davin quoted the rescue worker who remains anonymous.
As many as 18 persons, including pilot-in-command Captain Deepak Sathe and his co-pilot Akhilesh Kumar, were killed after the aircraft skidded off the tabletop runway while attempting to land on Friday night. The Dubai-Calicut Air India Express aircraft was carrying 190 passengers as part of the Vande Bharat Mission.
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