August began with one of the most disastrous incidents till now. The Air India plane crash that killed at least 18 people after an Air India Express plane with 190 on board from Dubai skidded off the runway and broke in two while landing at Kerala’s Kozhikode on Friday amid heavy rain. Among those killed were the two pilots of Flight IX-1344, while over 140 more are injured, some of them seriously injured.
There were 190 people on board the Air India Express flight AXB1344 including 174 passengers, 10 infants and four crew members. Air India Express is a subsidiary of state-run airline Air India.
The flight from Dubai was a repatriation flight carrying Indian citizens back to the country under the Vande Bharat Mission, meant to bring home stranded people from other countries amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Regular commercial flights have been halted in India because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Officials said the plane did not catch fire or the casualties would have been higher.
All on board were evacuated after a nearly three-hour operation and at least 112 injured were taken to hospitals in Kozhikode and Malappuram districts, authorities said.
According to flight-tracking website FlightRadar24, the aircraft circled the airport several times and made two attempts to land.
The pilots of the Air India Express plane that skidded off the runway and broke into two at Kerala’s Kozhikode were among the 18 who lost their lives on Friday evening. They were Wing Commander Deepak Vasant Sathe and Captain Akhilesh Kumar.
Wing Commander Deepak V Sathe was a decorated former fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force who flew planes for Air India before he went on to Air India Express flights.
An alumnus of the National Defence Academy, he was described as very experienced in flying Boeing 737 planes.
“Captain Deepak V Sathe was from 58th course of the NDA. He was from the Juliet Squadron,” Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale (Retd) was quoted as telling the press.
“He passed out from Air Force Academy in Hyderabad with a Sword of Honour in June 1981,” he added. He remembered him as an excellent squash player.
“He was very professional and had been awarded the 58 NDA President Gold Medal. He had been a test pilot for the Air Force,” said another officer.
Aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said it was raining heavily when pilots of the Boeing 737 plane from Dubai tried to land. According to reports, the plane continued to run at a high speed and skidded off the runway when the pilots tried to stop it.
The regulator said after landing at Runway 10, the plane continued running till the end of the runway and fell into the valley and broke into two portions.
Home Minister Amit Shah, who is recuperating at a Gurugram hospital, ordered National Disaster Response Force teams to rush to the airport to help with the rescue operations.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who expressed his pain at the tragic accident, picked up the phone to speak to Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. “My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. May the injured recover at the earliest. Spoke to Kerala CM @vijayanpinarayi Ji regarding the situation. Authorities are at the spot, providing all assistance to the affected,” he said.
Four hours after the crash, Kerala police officers said two people were still trapped and the operation to pull them out was still on.
“It was raining heavily. The pilot had given a warning before landing saying the weather was really bad. He tried for safe landing twice but lost control. The aircraft shot off the runway and skidded off and it was broke into two pieces. It was a miraculous escape for many,” said a passenger V Ibrahim.
Kerala has been facing heavy rains and inclement weather in large parts of the state.