Air India Express crash: There was a loud thud before the plane fell into a gorge
Published on August 8, 2020 at 00.01
Passengers were screaming and survivors recalled a loud thud as an Air Indian Express Boeing 737 from Dubai skidded off the runway while landing on its second and fatal attempt in rough weather in low visibility at Calicut International Airport in Kozhikode. The Boeing 737 aircraft reportedly overshot the runway and fell into a hillside gorge, splitting in two.
The crash killed 16 passengers, including both the pilots.
The special repatriation flight was carrying 184 stranded Indians to their home state of Kerala. Reports suggested the plane crashed nose-first into the ground in the gorge 30 feet below.
The airport is a table-top, that is carved out of a hillock. Such airports have previously posed a challenge to pilots during inclement weather.
Visibility was a mere 2,000 metres at the time of the crash.
Indian civil aviation officials said there was no fire on board the aircraft.
Junaid, a 25-year-old survivor, said there was a loud sound before the crash. "The flight tried to land and then took off again. On the second attempt, the wheels were on the ground but the aircraft did not slow down. I felt the plane sliding down and saw it break into two."
This landing pattern was confirmed by Flightradar24, a website that tracks flights in real time. Data showed the plane looping around the airport twice before attempting to land.
Junaid said he escaped as he was sitting at the back of the aircraft. "Those in the front had severe injuries. My head banged into something, but I escaped with no other injuries."
"I tried hard not to move after the plane came to a halt. There were loud screams. I can't still believe that I'm out of this alive," a shocked Junaid told Khaleej Times over phone.
Another survivor Shamsudheen T.K. could hardly believe that he had survived a plane crash.
Speaking to Khaleej Times from a hospital, he said: "It was a comfortable flight until we began to descend. I think it was our second attempt to land when I heard a loud thud and I could feel the aircraft moving at an uncontrollable speed when suddenly it skidded off the runway and fell into a ditch. Luckily my two friends and I were sitting in the middle section of the aircraft. We had our seatbelts on but as soon as we saw the plane split into two, we managed to unbuckle ourselves and jumped out of the aircraft. We survived because the aircraft didn't catch fire, else we wouldn't have made it."
Others like Safan Vadakkan are worried about their loved ones on the flight. "I cannot think straight. My wife and two kids are in the plane. I hope they are safe," Vadakkan, a Dubai expat, told Khaleej Times over phone.
"I am calling on every possible number I can. I have been told that my kids are safe. But nothing is clear now. I am praying," said Vadakkan.
His brother Jayan's family consisting wife and three children were also onboard the Vande Bharat flight that left Dubai International Airport on Friday afternoon.
Wing Commander Deepak Vasant Sathe, a retired Indian Air Force pilot, was at the controls and he was described as very experienced in flying Boeing 737 planes.
Dubai-based aviation consultant Mark Martin said that while it was too early to determine the cause of the crash. Annual monsoon conditions appeared to be a factor.
"Low visibility, wet runway, low cloud base, all leading to very poor braking action is what looks like led to where we are at the moment with this crash," Martin said, calling for the European Aviation Safety Agency and the US Federal Aviation Administration to assist with the Indian government's investigation.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was "pained by the plane accident in Kozhikode," and that he had spoken to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.