In runway doom, 158 die

In runway doom, 158 die

Air India Express plunges into Mangalore valley after overshooting tarmac; providential escape for 8

In runway doom, 158 die

Firefighters perform rescue work at the site. AP




The ill-fated flight — IX-812 — was scheduled to land at the airport at 6.30 am after a three-hour-long flight from Dubai. But the flight, commanded by an experienced British pilot of Serbian-origin, Zlatko Glusica, was ahead of the scheduled landing time and got the Air Traffic Control clearance to land at 6.02 am, two minutes ahead of the local sunrise time, under good visibility conditions.

Eyewitnesses, who did not wish to be named, said the Boeing 737-800 aircraft made a faulty touchdown on the new ‘table-top’ runway (opened for air traffic in 2006). The aircraft, according to them, overshot the touchdown zone of the 8,000 feet runway by up to three thousand feet. as it made the touchdown. The aircraft then careened on the runway at great speed, overshot the runway, hit a concrete structure (Instrument
Landing System facility), burst into flames and broke into two pieces under the impact before plunging into the valley at the south end of the runway — a fall of almost 250 feet.

A wing and a wheel broke off from the aircraft and lay by tarmac. All happened in a matter of a few seconds. Eight of the passengers escaped death miraculously. There were 105 men, 32 women, 19 children and 4 infants. All children, infants and 31 women are among the dead. Ninety-two were from Karnataka and 62 from Kerala. The lone woman survivor is identified as Sabrina, a Bangladeshi national who is a medical internee at the Kasturba Medical College, Manipal.

DNA tests

By late evening, rescue teams removed all bodies from the crash site, though they were yet to locate the black box which could throw light on the cause of the disaster. They have also identified 78 bodies, of which 60 have been claimed by relatives. Authorities said they would go for DNA tests for identification, if required.

The charred bodies extricated from the wreckage suggested that death was instantaneous. But the lucky eight — their escape as unbelievable as the horrific deaths of their not-so-lucky co-passengers — jumped from the doomed plane as the fuselage snapped into pieces in the free fall.

The dense foliage took the impact of their bodies which did not bear signs of severe injuries. Some of them had burnt limbs, others had a few broken bones and a couple of them bore marks of light wounds.

The area surrounding the wreckage was a scene of human misery. People who had come to the airport to receive their relatives and friends rushed to the site but were met with the horrific sight of charred bodies stuck to the hull and fuselage and other burnt pieces of limbs and burst-open skulls. Firemen carried the limp but burnt body of a child uphill only to return to extricate more from the mounds piled inside and outside the wreckage.

The rescue effort was initially hampered because of the thick smoke billowing from the aircraft’s belly. Hundreds of people from nearby villages rushed to the spot to lend a helping hand to the over-stretched teams of firemen and rescuers.

Men and women wept inconsolably as they mourned the loss of their loved ones. Some of the passengers were returning to India to attend a wedding, some to take part in the last rites of a relative, some on their annual vacation and yet some others to be with their parents.

The sequence of events before the plane crashed and the manner in which the pilot landed the aircraft would constitute the central aspects of a court-of-enquiry initiated by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

The probe will be led by an inspector of enquiry, Civil Aviation Secretary Madhavan Nambiar declared at a press conference in Delhi. All accounts, including reports from the Meteorological Department, indicated that visibility was not poor.

The runway was extended in 2006 to 8,000 feet which, aviation experts felt, was long enough a stretch for landing bigger aircraft like the 737-800.  This is the worst airline disaster in India since 1996 when an Air Kazakhstan flight collided with Saudi Arabia Airlines flight midair over Charkhi Dadri in Haryana, killing 312 people.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox