159 feared dead in Mangalore air crash

published on May 22, 2010

PTI | Mangalore

All but seven people on an Air India Express plane from Dubai with 166 persons on board are feared dead when the Boeing aircraft crashed and caught fire on Saturday after it overshot the brand new runway while landing at the Mangalore airport.

“As far as the information available with us is concerned, eight persons were rescued and shifted to local hospitals in Mangalore for their treatment,” Air India personnel director Anup Shrivastava told reporters in Mumbai. Among the eight survivors, one person died
on the way to hospital, an AirIndia spokesman said.

The state-of-the-art Boeing 737-800, which was inducted on January 15, 2008 and piloted by Serbian expatriate Capt Zlatko Glusica, had 160 passengers and a six-member crew on board the budget carrier. The passengers included four infants. Glusica(55) had 10,000 hours (rpt) hours of flying experience, an official said.

Police said 65 charred bodies have been recovered and that fire has been doused from the accident site in this coastal city, nearly six hours after one of India’s worst ever air mishap occurred at 6.30 am. A majority of the victims are Keralites.

Air India is right now busy in confirming the casualties, Srivastava said. Mangalore airport has been shut down for further operations.

Karnataka Home Minister VS Acharya said the condition of some of the injured was critical.

According to aviation officials, the aircraft overshot the runway, hit a fence and went beyond the boundary wall of the airport and fell into a cliff.

Sadananda Gowda, who is the BJP MP from Mangalore, said the accident happened after a wing of the aircraft hit a hillock when the pilot attempted to take off after the plane overshot the runway while landing.

Officials said the weather was cloudy and there was slight drizzle when the aircraft was landing at the runway which was opened 10 days ago.

The plane broke and smoke billowed from the main fuselage. According to preliminary reports, the aircraft exploded after it caught fire. The plane was almost completely burnt with only its tail visible.

One of the survivors Umar Farooq said the aircraft experienced turbulence. One Eyewitness said a tyre of the ill-fated plane had burst on landing.

Rescue operations were in full swing and search was on for the black box which could give clues to the cause of the crash.

Airports Authority of India Chairman VP Agarwal said visibility was seven kms, more than that required, when the ill-fated plane landed in Mangalore.

Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) will conduct full inquiry into the incident, Agarwal said.

The exact cause of the accident at the airport, which is about 30 km from the city, is yet to be ascertained.

Agarwal said there was “no distress indication” from the pilot of the ill-fated plane.

The visibility at the airport was 6 kms, which is “more than that required”, when the ill-fated plane landed in Mangalore, Agarwal told reporters in New Delhi.

Replying to a volley of questions, Agarwal said, “No constructional defeciencies were noticed” and that authorities had conducted all necessary safety checks at the airport before the runway which has been operational since 2006.

In Mumbai, Air India Director (Operations) Anup Srivastava said the plane overshot the runway after it landed at the airport, resulting in the mishap.

Fire and police officials removed the bodies that have been charred beyond recognition from the wreckage of the smouldering aircraft.

Firefighters sprayed water on the plane as rescue workers struggled to find survivors. One rescue personnel ran up a hill with an injured child in his arms.

Scores of villagers scrambled over the hilly terrain to reach the wreckage, and began aiding in the rescue operation.

The new runway was constructed as part of the expansion project of the Bajpe airport.

The airport’s location, on a plateau surrounded by hills, made it difficult for the firefighters to reach the scene officials said.

Aviation experts said Bajpe airport’s “tabletop” runway, which ends in a valley, triggered fears of a bad crash if a plane overshoots it.

Rescue operation proved to be an arduous task as hundreds of people gathered near the disaster site.

Officials said Sabreena, Umar Farooq, Roza Pratap D’Souza, Mohammed Kutty, Krishna and Pradeep were among the survivors.

Sabreena has suffered ankle fracture and Farooq burns on his face and hands, they said.

AI crash: Telephone helplines set up

PTI | Mangalore: Authorities on Saturday set up telephone helplines to facilitate dissemination of information regarding the air crash here.

The helplines were set up in Delhi, Mangalore and Bangalore.

The Delhi helpline numbers are 011-25656196 and 011-25603101 while Mangalore number is 082-42220422. The Bangalore number is 080-66785172 and 080-22273310.

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