At least 17 people were killed Friday when a passenger jet ripped in two after it overshot and skidded off the runway upon landing in southern India, officials said.
Dozens of people were injured, 15 of them seriously, after the Air India Express Boeing 737 from Dubai — a coronavirus evacuation flight — plunged down a slope in heavy rain on its second attempt to land in Kozhikode.
Officials said 191 passengers and crew were on board the plane that plummeted 10 metres off the so-called tabletop runway in Kerala state.
The fuselage was ripped apart and surrounded by emergency personnel working in the dark. Video footage showed them spraying the wreckage with water, although there was no sign of any fire.
Sakeena K., the district medical officer in the nearby city of Malappuram, said 17 people had died.
“We are still ascertaining the toll,” she told AFP.
Kozhikode official Seeram Sambasiva said that the two pilots were among the dead.
Senior local policeman Abdul Karim told AFP said that at least 15 passengers were in a serious condition and being treated in local hospitals.
“We fear that the death toll will go up further. The rescue operation has been completed. We are now collecting and sorting people’s belongings and valuables around the runway,” he said.
India’s aviation regulator DGCA said the plane skidded off the end of the runway and “fell down in the valley and broke down in two pieces”.
Several people were stuck inside the wreckage and had to be cut out with special equipment.
One television channel reported there had been a problem with the jet’s landing gear, but this was not confirmed by Air India Express or the aviation authority.
Parts of the plane ended up tearing holes through walls.
The flight was one of hundreds in recent months to bring home some of the tens of thousands of Indians stranded abroad by the coronavirus pandemic, many of them in Gulf countries.
According to flight documents seen by AFP, 15 of those on board had lost their jobs and 12 were returning for a medical emergency. Two people on board were coming back for their weddings.
Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences.
“My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. May the injured recover at the earliest … Authorities are at the spot, providing all assistance to the affected,” Mr Modi said.
The last major plane crash in India was in 2010 when an Air India Express Boeing 737-800 from Dubai to Mangalore overshot the runway and burst into flames.
The crash killed 158 people and left eight survivors.
Kerala has been battered by heavy rains in recent days.
At least 15 people were killed on Friday after a landslide triggered by heavy rains flattened a row of huts elsewhere in the state.
Around 50 other people were feared trapped in the debris. The dead included two children.
“It has been raining for the last two days. Even right now it’s raining here … This is the third calamity in the region (this year). First floods, then a landslide and now this,” said Karim.