At least 17 people, including the pilot, have been killed as a passenger plane of Air India Express crashed after it skidded off the runway at Kozhikode Calicut International Airport in the southern state of Kerala on Friday night.
Flight IX-1344, arriving from Dubai, broke into two pieces following the crash. Seventeen deaths have so far been confirmed from the accident, reports NDTV.
According to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the incident took place at 7:44 pm when the Boeing-737 aircraft flight landed at the airport amid heavy rain.
It overshot the runway, fell down into a valley and broke into two, the DGCA said, adding that no fire was reported at the time of landing.
The airline authority said there were 184 passengers including 10 children and six crew members on the flight.
The Indian authority said all the passengers were evacuated after a nearly three hour operation and at least 112 injured were taken to hospital.
The flight was part of the Vande Bharat programme that has been bringing back Indians from abroad amid the coronavirus pandemic
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed grief over loss of lives due to the plane accident in Kozhikode.
In a tweet, Prime Minister Modi said, "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."
Congress President Rahul Gandhi also expressed shock at the accident and extended condolence to bereaved family members.
He said "Shocked at the devastating news of the plane mishap in Kozhikode. Deepest condolences to the friends and family of those who died in this accident. Prayers for the speedy recovery of the injured."
Meanwhile, Bangladesh High Commissioner to India Muhammad Imran told UNB that it was an evacuation flight for Indian nationals.
“It is unlikely that any Bangladeshi was among the passengers. We are following up the developments," he added.
A similar tragedy to Friday’s was narrowly avoided at the same airport a year ago, when an Air India Express flight suffered a tail strike upon landing, reports AP.
None of the 180 passengers of that flight were injured.
Kozhikode’s 2,850-meter (9,350-foot) runway is on a flat hilltop with deep gorges on either side ending in a 34-meter (112-foot) drop.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep S. Puri said in a statement that the flight “overshot the runway in rainy conditions and went down” the slope, breaking into two pieces upon impact.
An inquiry will be conducted by the ministry’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau, he said.
The airport’s runway end safety area was expanded in 2018 to accommodate wide-body aircraft.
The runway end safety area meets United Nations international civil aviation requirements, but the U.N. agency recommends a buffer that is 150 meters (492 feet) longer than what exists at Kozhikode airport, according to Harro Ranter, chief executive of the Aviation Safety Network online database.
Dubai-based aviation consultant Mark Martin said that while it was too early to determine the cause of the crash, annual monsoon conditions appeared to be a factor.
“Low visibility, wet runway, low cloud base, all leading to very poor braking action is what looks like led to where we are at the moment with this crash,” Martin said, calling for the European Aviation Safety Agency and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to assist with the Indian government’s investigation.
The Air India Express flight was part of the Indian government’s special repatriation mission to bring Indian citizens back to the country, officials said. All of the passengers were returning from the Gulf region, authorities said. Regular commercial flights have been halted in India because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The worst air disaster in India was on Nov. 12, 1996, when a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight collided midair with a Kazakhastan Airlines Flight near Charki Dadri in Haryana state, killing all 349 on board the two planes.
Earlier on the day, Kerala saw 15 deaths from landslides in Idukki district, triggered by heavy downfall.
Around 50 others are still feared trapped in debris.