May 23, 2010 3:25:42 am
As darkness descended over the wooded hill on which Mangalores Bajpe airport sits,search teams rummaging through the twisted metal wreckage called it a day,suspending until Sunday morning their hunt for the cockpit voice recorder that could reveal the secret of the last catastrophic seconds of Air India Express flight IX 812.
More than 12 hours after the Boeing 737-800 coming in to land from Dubai overshot the runway and crashed into the wooded valley beyond,the smell of death hung low over the charred trees.
By the evening,bodies of all 158 dead had been pulled out of the wreckage,but only 77 could be identified,said Karnataka Environment Minister J Krishna Palemar,who was coordinating operations at the crash site.
Several passengers were found still strapped in their seats,burnt beyond recognition. Most bodies have been kept at the Government Wentlock Hospital,where the process of identification through DNA tests will begin on Sunday,the Minister said.
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Eight of the 166 people on board the aircraft survived the disaster,the first in Indian aviation since 2000,and the worst since the mid-air crash over Charkhi Dadri outside Delhi in 1996.
The two-and-a-half-year-old aircraft missed the touchdown area of the tabletop runway at Bajpe airport,barreled into a concrete antenna used as a landing aid,and careened into the valley to the left of the runway. The fuselage broke into two,and the aircraft burst into flames.
Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said one of the passengers had escaped unhurt,three had survived with major injuries,and four with minor ones. There were 105 men,32 women,19 children and four infants on board,besides a six-member crew. Most of the passengers were from Kerala. No one from the crew survived.
The aircraft was being flown by Capt Zlatko Glusica,a 55-year-old British citizen of Serbian origin,with 10,000 hours of flying experience. Commander Glusica had made 26 earlier landings at the airport. His co-pilot,Capt H S Ahluwalia,had flown 3,750 hours,and was making his 67th landing in Mangalore. The two pilots had landed here together on May 17.
An Airports Authority of India official said the weather was calm,there were no strong winds,visibility was a comfortable 6 km,and it was not raining.
Patel said the cockpit voice recorder,or the black box,which could provide vital clues to what went wrong with the landing,was yet to be found. He said the plane overshot the touchdown area and went into the hillside because the spillover area beyond the runway was short.
One of the aircrafts wings hit the localiser instrument,a navigation aid standing at the end of the spillover area,Patel said. After plunging into the valley some 200-300 metres below the level of the runway,the aircraft caught fire,he added.
After returning to Delhi from the crash site,Patel met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,and is believed to have offered to resign owning moral responsibility for the tragedy. The PM rejected the offer.
Singh led the nation and the entire political leadership is condoling the loss of lives. As a mark of respect to the deceased,the government cancelled scheduled functions on the first anniversary of UPA-II today.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has ordered an inquiry. Officials of the US National Transportation Safety Board and a team from Boeing are rushing to India to help in the investigations.
An eyewitness said a tyre of the plane had burst after landing. The plane shook with vibrations before it split into two. As soon as it hit the ground,I managed to get out and jump into a pit. There was smoke all over as the plane caught fire. After ten minutes,there was an explosion, said Pradeep,one of the survivors. I cant believe I have survived.
The families of each of those killed could get up to Rs 76 lakh as compensation. The PM announced an ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh for each family,and Patel said the airline would give up to $1,60,000 (about Rs 72 lakh) as per the provisions of the Carriage by Air (Amendment) Act. Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa announced an ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh for the families of each of the dead.
Todays mishap was the first major crash in India since July 2000,when an Alliance Air aircraft crashed near Patna airport,killing 61 people. The countrys worst aviation disaster occurred in 1996,when two passenger planes collided in the air above Delhi,killing 349 people.
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