Special Air India flight crashes on landing in Kerala, 18 dead

An Air India plane carrying 190 people has crash-landed and broken in two in a storm at an airport in southern India, killing at least 18 people and injuring dozens.

The special flight was bringing 190 Indians stranded by the coronavirus pandemic in Gulf countries back to India.
The special flight was bringing 190 Indians stranded by the coronavirus pandemic in Gulf countries back to India. AFP

The Air India Express Boeing 737, on a special flight from Dubai to bring back Indians stranded overseas by the coronavirus pandemic, overshot the runway at Kozhikode in Kerala state late on Friday, plunging down an embankment and breaking up, according to first accounts.

Aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said the death toll had risen during the night to 18.

The fatalities included the two pilots as well as infants aged 10 months and 18 months, according to a hospital list seen by the French AFP news agency. At least 15 people suffered critical injuries, doctors said.

Kozhikode is considered a difficult airport as it has a table-top runway with a steep drop at one end.

The south-western state of Kerala has been hit by severe floods in recent days and heavy rains had been falling for several hours at Kozhikode as the jet landed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was "pained by the plane accident".

Shock and horror among survivors

Passenger Renjith Panangad recalled the plane touching the ground and said everything then went "blank".

"After the crash, the emergency door opened and I dragged myself out somehow," he told AFP from a hospital bed in Kozhikode.

"The front part of the plane was gone -- it was completely gone. I don't know how I made it but I'm grateful. I am still shaken."

Pilot failed on two landing attempts

Indian media quoted air traffic control officials and a flight tracker website as showing that the Boeing 737 twice circled and started to land before it crashed at the third attempt.

The jet repeatedly jumped up and down in buffeting winds before the landing, survivors told Indian television.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation said only that the jet kept going to the end of the runway in the heavy rain and "fell down the ravine and broke in two".

"Fuel had leaked out so it was a miracle that the plane did not catch fire, the toll could have been much higher," one senior emergency official at the scene said.

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