8 survive, 158 perish in Air India Crash

May 24th, 2010 by Ravi Matah | Posted in News   No Comments »
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Likely Causes of Crash

Pilot error was being blamed last night after the Air India Boeing 737-800 overshot a runway in Mangalore, plunged over a cliff and exploded in flames, killing all but eight of the 166 people onboard. 

Air India

Air India

The AI flight number IX 812 was coming in to Mangalore from Dubai.

Survivors, who had been shifted to the local Hospitals, said it had braked suddenly and veered out of control before the right wing struck an antenna, splitting the plane in two, and  went towards the cliff’s edge.

The Serbian pilot, Zlatko Glusica, who was said to have considerable flying experience, was among the 158 dead. He issued no distress signal before landing the flight at Mangalore at 6.03 am in good conditions. Prior to this flight, he had flown a plane 19 times to this Airpot. 

Peter Abraham, the airport’s director opined that the pilot appeared to have touched down too far along the 8,000ft runway, missing the “landing threshold” and leaving too little time to stop. 

Pilot error was a “likely” cause of the disaster, said Kapil Kaul, chief executive of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, a research group. 

The aircraft was only two and a half years old and driven by experienced Pilots.

Many of the 160 passengers, all Indian, were returning home from jobs in the Gulf for the start of the summer holiday season. They included 23 children — four of them infants — and migrant workers who had not seen their families for up to two years. 

The first sign of trouble was a bang that sounded like a small explosion. Passengers said it could have been a tyre bursting as the pilot braked sharply and lost control. 

“It all happened in just a few seconds,” said Abdul Totuttur, a survivor. 

“The right wing was on the ground, and the left wing of the plane was up in the air. Then I saw the plane break into two in the middle. I had very little time. But I jumped out, about 8ft. I had two other people who did the same”. 

 Totuttur added that- “I walked on fire for some time. I limped and fell and picked myself up again. When I turned back and looked, there was a loud explosion and smouldering fire.”

He climbed a hill and was given water by rescuers. His brother then drove him to hospital, where his wife and two-year-old daughter were waiting. “I have injuries on my face and my hand,” Totuttur said. “Allah has saved me.” 

Rescue workers pulled charred bodies from the seats where they remained strapped in at Mangalore. Aviation experts described its “table-top” runway as a disaster waiting to happen, with little room for maneuver in an emergency. 

The Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Mr Praful Patel, inspected the site of the crash and later spoke to some of the survivors. 

Patel said a 90-yard safety zone at the end of the runway would normally compensate for planes overshooting. “In this case it was apparently not able to stop … obviously the aircraft was at a higher speed,” he said. 

The new runway was constructed as part of the expansion project of the Bajpe Airport. 

The pilot reported to the  air traffic control that it was ‘established’ on ILS approach at about 15 km from touchdown. 

Landing clearance was given at 7 km from the t ouchdown. He said that the aircraft overshot the runway after touch down. 

Stating that weather conditions were normal with a visibility of 6 km, he said the wind condition was calm and there was no rain at the time of the crash. A drizzle started only after the accident. 

The aircraft seems to have touched down at 4,000 ft (1,219 m), instead of at 1,000 ft (305 m) and overshot the runway and fell into the valley nearby, they said. 

Mr Patel said that this is a matter of investigation. “The enquiry will establish what had happened. I cannot comment. There is going to be a detailed enquiry”. 

The Minister said that according to the Montreal Convention, of which India is the signatory, the families of the dead will be paid a compensation of $160,000, and the injured will be treated and compensated to the extent of injury. 

More than 50 fire tenders and ambulances were rushed to the crash site. Soon the district administration mobilised additional fire tenders and medical teams, including more ambulances. 

As the bodies were removed from the wreckage, there were heart-rending scenes of grieving relatives crying and consoling one another. 

The Karnataka Chief Minister, Mr B.S. Yeddyurappa, and the Kerala Chief Minister, Mr V. S. Achutanandan, visited the site of the crash. The External Affairs Minister, Mr S. M. Krishna, also visited the site.

Ravi Matah.

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