Remembering the crash...

Fire fighters busy extinguishing fire as hundreds of Mangaloreans watch in disbelief the burning aircraft after it crashed at Kenjar on May 22, 2010.

Come May 22 and it will be exactly one year after the ill-fated Dubai-Mangalore Air India Express Boing 737-800 aircraft crashed at Kenjar, killing 158 persons on board. A few would have forgotten the incident by now, but a large number of people perhaps will never forget the incident.

The huge fire ball, the billowing smoke in the region, the charred bodies without limbs, the piled up bodies at Wenlock and other hospitals, the victims’ relatives desperation to identify the bodies, the DNA tests, the mass burial of unidentified bodies, the help extended by Mangaloreans, the list goes on...

Perhaps none of the passengers of ill-fated flight would have thought even in their wildest dreams that a ‘small error of judgement’ by Pilot Zlatco Glusica would claim 158 lives in a jiffy, who otherwise would have been alive today.

Though it’s one year since the port city witnessed terrible disaster, the kin of the victims are yet to come to terms. Most of the victims’ kin this correspondent spoke to, broke down the moment they started speaking about the disaster.

Showing his wife and son’s photographs (killed in mishap) on his cell phone, Abdul Raheman tried to say something, but in vain. Similar was the situation of many others who do not want to remember the bitter incident.

Ire against Air India

On the other hand, the undue delay in awarding the compensation and the alleged ‘bargaining’ tactics used by M/s Mulla & Mulla, the legal firm designated by Air India to settle the cases, has added pain to their sufferings.

So far, the Air India has settled only 55 cases (52 dead and 3 survivors) while 68 persons (47 in Mangalore and 21 in Dubai) have approached the foreign law firm. Out of the remaining, few are waiting for the Ernakulam court verdict. If the court verdict is in favour of the victims, then the Air India has to pay not less than 1 lakh SDR (Special Drawing Rights) as per the Montreal Convention which is around Rs 70 lakh.

Quoting the victims, Mangalore Air Crash Victims’ Families Association (formed to help victims’ kin) President Mohammed Beary said the ‘bargaining’ tactics used by the advocates of M/s Mulla & Mulla was not fair. “A person’s life can’t be equated with money,” he said and cited examples on how the legal counsels increased the compensation amount depending upon the ‘bargaining’ or ‘arguing’ capacity of the victims’ kin.

Stating that nearly 125 victims out of 158 deceased passengers were poor, he said that just because there was no other mode of transport, the passengers were travelling by the ill-fated flight.

Clarifying that the Association is not criticising the advocates appointed by the Air India in anyway, Beary said that the Association is fighting only for the victims’ right.
Justifying the victims’ kins’ stand on approaching the international lawyers, Beary said though the Association decided to approach the international lawyers (who are well versed with such cases) way back in June 2010, the idea was postponed just because H D Nanavathi (head of M/s Mulla & Mulla) called the Association and assured that he would increase the quantum of amount. “But the Association is now forced to approach the international lawyers as the firm failed to keep its promises.”

Interestingly, going by the statements of some of the victims’ kin, Air India has not made any effort to invite them to discuss or settle the payment. “Till date I have not received any call or letter from Air India,” said Abdul Raheman, who lost his wife Shaheed Nusrath and son Zeeshan. Santhosh Rai, who lost his wife Viha and daughters Reshma and Naland, too is yet to receive any call from Air India. “There are many more people who have not been approached so far,” said Abdul Razak.

Flaying the Air India legal firm for ‘fixing price’ for human life, a victim’s kin sought to know: “Will they do it, if it had happened to their kith and kin?”

What’s the use of experience?

The aircraft was under the command of Capt Zlatco Glusica, who had 10,200 hours of flying experience and he had commanded 19 flights from Mangalore, the last flown from Mangalore in November 2009.

At the same time, co-pilot Capt H S Ahluwalia was based in Mangalore and had 3,650 hours of flying experience, of which 3,350 hours was on Boeing 737 aircraft.
But what is the use of such vast experience. A small mistake, rather, neglecting the suggestion by co-pilot, resulted in the worst ever tragedy in coastal districts.

First major tragedy

Its unfortunate that the aircraft crashed exactly one week after the New Integrated Terminal Building (NITB) was inaugurated by Union Minister Praful Patel. He had announced that a sum of Rs 100 crore has been sanctioned to extend the runway by 1,000 feet (approximately 150 metres on either side).

Would an extended runway helped the pilot to avoid the first major tragedy in Mangalore airport, is a question remains unanswered. Whatever it is, the air crash involving Air Bus Boeing 737-800 would be remembered by the people of coastal region for years to come.

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