Saturday, May 22, 2010

Indian airliner crashes; nearly 160 presumed dead

-- Wikinews

An Air India Express airliner crashed last night in Mangalore, India, killing an estimated 160 people after a flight from Dubai.

According to reports, the plane, a Boeing 737, crashed after landing and overshot the runway, coming to a stop in a forested valley before exploding. According to the airline, a total of 166 people were on board the plane, 160 passengers and six crew. One of the seven survivors said that a tire on the plane had exploded as it was landing and "[w]ithin three seconds there was a fire blast. The inside was filled with smoke."

The cause of the crash is not yet known, though pilot error is presumed to be responsible. The pilot of the aircraft, a Serbian with around 10,000 hours of experience, had made no distress call before the crash. Visibility was also said to be good; the head of India's airport authority said that "visibility was six kilometres (four miles) when the aircraft approached the runway which was more than sufficient." Light rain was falling at the time of the crash.

Another survivor said that there had been no warning before the plane crashed. "Immediately on touching the ground, the aircraft jerked and in a few moments hit something. Then it split in the middle and caught fire. I just jumped from the gap."

An Air India official said that "[a]s far as the information available with us is concerned, eight persons were rescued and shifted to local hospitals in Mangalore for treatment." He also said that one of these people, reportedly a seven-year-old boy, had died while being taken to a hospital. A police official said that around 120 bodies have been recovered so far, some with severe burns.

Rescue workers had difficulty reaching the site of the crashed plane, as the valley is bordered by steep slopes, and heavy smoke hindered their progress.

The airport the aircraft had been attempting to land at is considered a challenging one, as it is on a flat plateau bordered by a valley. A former official from India's aviation ministry said that "Mangalore is a difficult field because it is on a plateau. From all accounts the visibility was all right. One can’t make any conclusions."

Families of the people killed in the crash will be compensated 200,000 Rupees (about 20 Dominion Pounds), while families of survivors will be compensated 50,000 rupees (about 5 Dominion Pounds). All of the money will be provided by the government of India.

This crash is the first significant crash of a passenger jet in India since July 17, 2000, when 51 people on board a Boeing 737 were killed as it crashed into buildings during an attempt to land at an airport in the city of Patna.

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