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Friday Aug 07 2020

At least 17 dead as Air India COVID-19 repatriation flight crash lands in Kerala

A passenger jet carrying 190 people from Dubai crash-landed at Kozhikode airport in Kerala, breaking into two, on August 7, 2020. — Photo courtesy @southasia24x7

At least 17 people were killed and dozens injured when an Air India Express passenger plane repatriating Indians stranded by the COVID-19 pandemic overshot the runway in heavy rain near the southern city of Kozhikode, officials said.

The Boeing-737 flight from Dubai to Calicut airport was carrying 190 passengers and crew, the civil aviation ministry said in a statement. Among them were 10 infants.

Television footage showed rescue workers moving around the wreckage in pouring rain. The aircraft lay split into at least two chunks after the plane’s fuselage sheared apart as it fell into a valley 30 feet below, authorities said.

“Unfortunately, 16 people have lost their lives. I offer my condolences to their next of kin and pray for speedy recovery of the injured,” Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said in a tweet.

Friday’s crash is the worst passenger aircraft accident in the country since 2010, when an Air India Express flight, also from Dubai, overshot the runway and slid down a hill while landing in the southern Indian city of Mangalore, killing 158 people.

Both Mangalore and Calicut have table-top runways that are located at an altitude and have steep drops at one or both ends of the runway.

Media reports suggested the plane skidded off the runway of Calicut international airport, crashing nose-first into the ground. Calicut is in the southern state of Kerala, home to a large number of Indians working in the Middle East.

Puri said rescue operations had been completed and all passengers had been removed from the aircraft. Police said earlier four people were stuck in the wreckage.

The civil aviation ministry said in a statement there was no fire on board.

India, which shut down all air travel in late March to try to contain the novel coronavirus, has restarted limited international air travel.

Air India Express AXB1344, was a government-operated repatriation flight for Indians previously unable to return home because of the travel restrictions.

TV visuals showed the aircraft’s nose smashed into a brick wall, with much of the middle of the plane pulverised.

Local TV news channels showed passengers, some of them lying motionless on stretchers, brought into a hospital surrounded by health workers wearing masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Pained by the plane accident in Kozhikode” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted. “My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. May the injured recover at the earliest,” he said.

He said that he has spoken to authorities on the spot and they are providing all assistance to the affected.

Indian home minister Amit Shah said he was "distressed to learn about the tragic incident".

"Have instructed the [National Disaster Response Force] to reach the site at the earliest and assist with the rescue operations," he said.

Nirmala Sitharaman, India's Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs, said she is "shocked to know of the Air India Express tragedy in Kozhikode".

"Hope and prayers for all on board. [I] understand that [National Disaster Response Force] is being rushed to the spot," she added.

Meanwhile, Saral Patel of the opposition Congress party, shared  "devasting" visuals from the crash site.

"Thought(s) with the victims and their families and prayers for the survivors," he wrote.

PM Imran expresses condolences

Prime Minister Imran Khan said he is "saddened to learn of the Air India plane crash in Kerala state leading to loss of innocent lives".

"May Allah give strength to the bereaved families in their difficult hour," he added.