17 die, scores hurt as Air India Express flight from Dubai breaks in two in Kozhikode

The wreckage of an Air India Express Flight IX 1344 from Dubai to Kozhikode after the plane had overshot the runway while landing around 7:40 p.m. (IST) on Friday. — Courtesy photo
The wreckage of an Air India Express Flight IX 1344 from Dubai to Kozhikode after the plane had overshot the runway while landing around 7:40 p.m. (IST) on Friday. — Courtesy photo

NEW DELHI/THIRUVANANTHAPURAM — At least 17 people were killed after an Air India Express Flight IX 1344 from Dubai to Kozhikode overshot the runway while landing around 7:40 p.m (India time) on Friday. The Air India Express plane, with 191 onboard, broke in two as it skidded during the landing amid heavy rain.

Among those killed was Wing Commander Deepak Vasant Sathe, one of the pilots of Flight IX-1344, authorities said. All on board were evacuated and at least 112 injured were taken to hospital, local agencies quoting authorities reported.

The flight was part of the "Vande Bharat" program that has been bringing back Indians from abroad amid the coronavirus pandemic. Television images from the site showed part of the fuselage of the Boeing 737 jet ripped apart with debris strewn all over.

A greater tragedy was averted as the plane did not catch fire. Emergency services personnel were seen working in the dark and spraying the wreckage with water. According to flight-tracking website FlightRadar24, the aircraft circled the airport several times and made two attempts to land, NDTV reported.

India's Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said the plane overshot the runway in rainy conditions and went down 35 feet into a slope before breaking up into two pieces, adding, that a formal inquiry will be conducted by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau.

“Deeply anguished & distressed at the air accident in Kozhikode. The @FlyWithIX flight number AXB-1344 on its way from Dubai to Kozhikode with 191 persons on board, overshot the runway in rainy conditions & went down 35 ft. into a slope before breaking up into two pieces,” tweeted Puri.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: "Pained by the plane accident in Kozhikode. 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."

Meanwhile, Kerala's Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has deputed A. C. Moideen, minister for local bodies, to oversee the rescue operations. Moideen has already left for Karipur from Thrissur.

The chief minister also has deputed an IG of police to oversee the rescue operation. Health authorities have been instructed to provide all possible medical aid to those injured in the tragedy.

Modi also spoke to minister of state for external affairs, V. Muraleedharan, about the Kozhikode accident. The minister may visit Kozhikode on Saturday. The Kozhikode airport is one of Kerala's most prominent international terminals and handles a significant number of flights from abroad.

The Dubai-Kozhikode aircraft was at full speed while landing at the Karipur Airport and overshot the runway, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) told news agency ANI.

The DGCA director-general as well as officials of the ministry, Airport Authority of India and Air India Express attended an urgent meeting called by Civil Aviation Ministry at Rajiv Gandhi Bhawan in New Delhi following the crash. It was reported that all flights to Kozhikode have been diverted to Kannur airport

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) too tweeted: “Deeply saddened to hear about the accident of Air India Express flight IX1344 upon landing at Kozhikode airport. Our thoughts are with all those affected by this accident.”

Top Indian leaders tweeted their reactions to the tragedy with Kerala Gov.ernor Arif Mohammed Khan saying: "My heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives following the crashlanding of #AirIndiaExpress flight at Karipur. My prayers for the speedy recovery of those injured.”

Defense Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted: “Devastating news from Kozhikode, Kerala. I am deeply anguished by the loss of lives due to an accident carrying several passengers on Air India flight. In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. I pray for the speedy recovery of the injured.”

While Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said: “Shocked to know of the #AirIndiaExpress tragedy in Kozhikode. Hope and prayers for all on board. Understand that @NDRFHQ is being rushed to the spot. #KeralaRains #airindia.”

Opposition leaders from Congress too condoled over the tragedy. "Tragic day for Kerala. First the deaths in Munnar & now this: I hear both pilots have died. Hope rescue efforts will succeed in saving all the passengers," Shashi Tharoor, the MP from Thiruvananthapuram, tweeted.

And Congress’ Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said, “My heart goes out to the crew and passengers of the Air India plane that has crashed in Calicut and to their families. Our prayers are with you at this tragic and painful moment.”

The Air India Express flight from Dubai to Calicut landed when the visibility was around 2,000 meters, which is considerably low for an incoming aircraft, especially in such topography. After landing on Runway 10, the plane continued to skid towards the end of the runway and eventually fell down in the valley, splitting into two parts.

“Second tragedy of the day in Kerala: Air India Express skids off the runway at Kozhikode, front portion splits, pilot dies and lots of passengers injured. All passengers evacuated. Very lucky the aircraft didn’t catch fire,” former union minister from the state KJ Alphons said.

The Calicut International Airport is located in the higher swaths of Malappuram, Palakkad in the southern Indian state, flanked by mountains and deep valleys on all sides. Since it is situated at an elevation, it is built in a tabletop fashion, adding to it that extra bit of risk factor for a place that witnesses hundreds of people landing on a daily basis. — Agencies