The Air India Express flight from Dubai, with 190 people on board that met with an accident at the Kozhikode airport Friday evening overshot the runway, but no fire was reported during its landing, the Civil Aviation Ministry said. "Air India Express flight IX 1344 operated by B737 aircraft from Dubai to Calicut overshot runway at Kozhikode at 1941 hrs tonight. No fire reported at the time of landing," the ministry said in its statement.
There were 190 passengers, including ten infants, two pilots and four cabin crew on board the aircraft, the ministry noted.
At least 17 people were killed and several others injured, police sources said. The pilot-in-command Captain Deepak Sathe and his co-pilot Akhilesh Kumar were among those who died. Sathe was a former Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and had served at the force’s flight testing establishment.
Malappuram District Collector K Gopalakrishnan told reporters at the airport that 17 people on board the aircraft were killed in the accident. The identity of the victims was not immediately known.
He also said some of the injured were in a critical condition.
The Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said the flight -- IX 1344 -- continued running to the end of the runway amid heavy rain and "fell down in the valley and broke down in two pieces".
The Air India Express is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Air India, and it has only B737 aircraft in its fleet.
Scheduled international passenger flights continue to remain suspended in India since March 23 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
However, since May 6, special repatriation flights have been operated by Air India and Air India Express under the Vande Bharat Mission to help stranded people reach their destinations. Private carriers have also operated a certain number of flights under this mission.
A spokesperson for the Air India Express said that help centres are being set up at Sharjah and Dubai for affected people.
"We regret that there has been an incident regarding our aircraft VT GHK, operating IX 1344," the spokesperson added.
Riyas, one of the passengers, who was rescued, said the flight went around the airport twice before attempting to land.
"I was in the back seat. There was a big noise, and I don't know what happened after that," he told a TV channel.
Fathima, another passenger, said the flight landed with a heavy force and moved forward.
A statement by civil aviation regulator DGCA said the airplane after landing at Runway 10 continued moving to the end of the runway amid heavy rains and "fell down in the valley and broke into two pieces ".
TV footage from the accident site showed the aircraft split into two pieces and the debris lay scattered on the ground.
The distressing scene
Screams of pain, blood-soaked clothes, terrified children and the blare of ambulance sirens captured the distressing scene that unfolded after the ill-fated plane fell into the valley with a deafening sound.
Amid heavy rain, rescue personnel, including the local civil police, rushed to pull out the injured people from the aircraft while the passengers were stunned even to comprehend what had happened in a matter of moments that led to chaotic moments.
Children, some as young as four or five years clung on to the rescue personnel while things strewn around, from shoes to baggage, bore telltale signs of the agonising moments endured by passengers.
The scene was similar in hospitals where the injured were rushed as screams rent the air with health workers trying to provide succour.
People living nearby pitched in on time to lend a helping hand to the shocked passengers.
A local man said he rushed to the airport after hearing a "terrible thud" when the airplane fell.
"Small kids were trapped under the seats, and it was such a distressing sight," he said.
"When we reached there some were deplaned.
"Many of them were seriously injured.
"Legs were broken...My hands and shirt were soaked in the blood of the injured persons", he said.
Another man in the rescue operations, who could not be immediately identified, told a TV channel that the "injured pilot of the aircraft was taken out from the cockpit after breaking it."
By the time ambulances started reaching the spot, the locals had already begun shifting injured passengers in cars to various hospitals in Kozhikode and Malappuram districts, he said.
Collector Gopalakrishnan said 110 people were admitted to seven hospitals in Kozhikode and 11 among them are dead.
"Remaining are under treatment, and their condition are at different stages. Among the 80 people admitted to Malappuram hospitals, we have received information about six deaths there.
"Some of the patients are critical," he said.
The official also said two passengers, who got trapped at the tail portion of the aircraft, were rescued with great difficulty.
Chief Minister Vijayan asked all government agencies to engage in rescue operations using all government facilities.
He has deputed state minister A C Moideen to coordinate the rescue operations.
An Inspector General-rank officer was also deputed to oversee the operations.
Fire and Rescue teams of two districts-- Kozhikode and Malappuram-- were also pressed into service.
The condition of a mother and child injured in the accident was very serious, Health minister K K Shailaja said.
A reminder of the Mangaluru mishap
The mishap brought back memories of the crash of Air India Express flight IX 812 on May 22, 2010 at Mangaluru International Airport.
The flight from Dubai had overshot the runway and plunged down the cliff into a wooded valley, killing 158 people.
The probe into the 2010 crash had found that the Captain misjudged the height while landing, resulting in the flight overshooting the runway located on a plateau.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with leaders from across the political spectrum expressed anguish aircraft accident and offered condolences to the families of those killed in the tragedy.
Vice President Venkaiah Naidu said he was deeply anguished by the loss of lives in the tragic air mishap.
"My heartfelt condolences to the families who lost their dear ones in the crash & prayers for the speedy recovery of the injured," he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also expressed anguish at the Air India Express aircraft accident and said authorities are at the spot, providing all assistance to the affected. He also spoke with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in this regard.
"Pained by the plane accident in Kozhikode. My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. May the injured recover at the earliest," the Prime Minister tweeted.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said he was "deeply distressed" to hear about the tragedy at Kozhikode. "Prayers are with the bereaved families and those injured. We are ascertaining further details," Jaishankar said in a tweet.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh expressed deep anguish over the loss of lives due to an accident. "In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. I pray for the speedy recovery of the injured," he said.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi expressed shock at the news of the flight skidding off the tabletop runway and offered condolences to the families of those who died in the accident. "Shocked at the devastating news of the plane mishap in Kozhikode. Deepest condolences to the friends and family of those who died in this accident. Prayers for the speedy recovery of the injured," he said on Twitter.
"My thoughts are with the crew, the passengers and their families and friends at this time," he said.
Rescue operations completed
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said he is deeply "anguished and distressed" at the accident and that relief teams from Air India and Airports Authority of India (AAI) are immediately dispatched from Delhi and Mumbai.
"All efforts are being made to help passengers. A formal enquiry will be conducted by AAIB (Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau)," the minister said on Twitter.
"The Air India Express flight number AXB-1344 on its way from Dubai to Kozhikode with 190 persons on board, overshot the runway in rainy conditions & went down 35 ft. into a slope before breaking up into two pieces," he tweeted.
In another tweet at 12.01 am, he said the rescue operations had been completed.
"Two investigation teams of professionals from @airindiain @AAI_Official & AAIB will leave for Kozhikode at 02.00 hrs & 05.00 hrs. Everyone has now been rescued from the aircraft. Rescue operations are now complete. Injured being treated at various city hospitals," he said.
“MEA helplines are open 24x7: 1800 118 797; +91 11 23012113; +91 11 23014104; +91 11 23017905; Fax: +91 11 23018158; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org,” he posted on Twitter.
The Indian consulates in Dubai and Sharjah have activated five helpline numbers to provide information to the family members of the injured.