Indian authorities had practised for years for a jet overshooting the “table-top” runway at Kozhikode airport, but local resident Fazal Puthiyakath was not prepared for the “blood and death” of the real thing when confronted with the spectacle of the AirIndia crash.
The Boeing 737, en route from Dubai, skidded off the runway in rain and broke in two after landing at Calicut airport, aviation officials said.
AirIndia crash: The airport had a table-top runway
The flight was repatriating Indians stranded by the coronavirus crisis.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “pained by the plane accident”.
Praying for those who have been affected by the aircraft accident in Kozhikode. Deepest condolences to the loved ones of those who have lost their lives. 🙏🏼
— Virat Kohli (@imVkohli) August 7, 2020
The rescue operation at the crash site has now been completed and survivors have been taken to hospitals in Calicut and Malappuram, according to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
The director-general of India’s National Disaster Response Force, S N Pradhan, said Calicut airport had a “table-top runway” and that the aircraft fell into “a ditch” after skidding across it.
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He said the impact with the bottom of the ditch caused the fuselage to break in two, and that the front half was “very badly mangled and damaged”.
Mr Puri told broadcaster DD News that first responders were able to rescue the passengers because the plane did not catch fire. Several people had to be cut free.
The 32-year-old businessman and his neighbours were first on the scene after an Air India Express plane crashed over the runway down a 10-metre (35-foot) bank and broke in two during a fierce storm late Friday, killing 18 people and injuring more than 120.
Puthiyakath and others rushed out after hearing “a blast-like” roar.
Death toll could have been much higher if plane caught fire
“All that we could hear were screams all around. People were soaked in blood everywhere, some had fractures, some were unconscious,” he told AFP.
The impact was so brutal that the nose of the Boeing 737 finished about 20 metres from the back half of the jet.
The two pilots were killed but rescuers said the death toll would have been much higher if the jet had caught fire.
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.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 7, 2020
Kozhikode airport in southern India’s Kerala state is considered a potential hazard because it has a “table-top” runway with a steep bank at either end.
“I have seen the mock trials from a distance — airport authorities conduct it with a crashed dummy aircraft,” said Puthiyakath.
“But this was just something else in reality.”
“You realise that no matter how prepared you are, its completely different on the ground when you actually have blood and death around.”
Special AirIndia flight that crashed was bringing stranded Indians back
The special flight was bringing 190 Indians stranded by the coronavirus pandemic in Gulf countries back to India. Many live in Kerala where the number of virus cases is taking off.
“We didn’t bother about who had COVID or not. All that we had in mind was to save as many lives as possible,” said Puthiyakath. The table-top runway where the Indian jet crash happened had been always a risky manoeuvre for pilots.
Despite the shock, he drove one man to a local hospital in his car.
“All I heard throughout the drive was him crying about his wife and child. I can never forget that. I haven’t checked the car but I am sure there are bloodstains on the back seat.”
Junaid Mukkood, 34, who also lives nearby, said he heard two big bangs.
“Since it was raining, I thought it was probably lightning,” he said. “The plane had skidded off the runway, fallen and split in two. The cockpit was completely rammed into a wall.”
“We saw the pilots but they were still strapped to their seats and there was no gap for us to rescue them.”
Tractors and cranes had to move the debris to free the bodies of Deepak Vasant Sathe, a former Indian Air Force test pilot, and Akhilesh Kumar. Mukkood lived nearby the table-top runway where the Indian jet had crashed.
Mukkood said locals volunteered to help rescuers who were overcome by the size of the task.
“I had a child in my arms. She had bits of the debris on her,” he added. “The rain and the darkness only made it worse for us to find people.”
Officials said four of the dead from India’s worst air disaster in a decade were children.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk