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Mangalore air crash kills 158
Air India plane overshoots runway before bursting into flames; 8 survive
Shubhadeep Choudhury
Tribune News Service

Bangalore, May 22
In one of the worst aviation tragedies in the country, 158 persons were killed when an Air India Express Boeing plane from Dubai overshot the runway, went down a ravine and burst into flames at the Mangalore International Airport today. Of the 166 passengers, including six crew members, on board, eight survived.

Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, who rushed to Mangalore, said four persons sustained minor injuries while three were critically hurt. One person escaped unhurt. The rescued passengers have been shifted to hospitals in Mangalore.

Umar Farooq from Ullalpet in Mangalore, who survived the crash, said: I heard a loud noise and the plane swung violently and in a few seconds the cabin was full of fire and smoke. I saw a burning hole and through it trees outside, and I managed to free myself (from the seat belt) and get to the opening. The opening itself was in flames, so I covered my face with my hands and jumped. I fell a few feet to the ground and saw it was a hilly area. I crawled away from the flames and some village residents took me on a two-wheeler to the nearest junction. From there, an auto brought me to the hospital.

The Boeing 737-800 was inducted in the Air India Express fleet in 2008 with Serbian-origin pilot Capt Zlatko Glusica in command. Glusica (53) had 10,000 hours of flying experience and had made 16 previous landings at the airport in Mangalore. Co-pilot HS Ahluwalia had 3,650 hours of experience in the cockpit. Besides, there was a four-member cabin crew, including two air hostesses. The entire crew perished in the crash, which took place at about 6 am. The 160 passengers on board the ill-fated aircraft consisted of 137 adults, including 35 women, 19 children and four infants.

Bodies of all 158 victims have been recovered from the wreckage site. Till late evening, a total of 77 bodies had been identified, Karnataka Environment Minister J Krishna Palemar, who is coordinating the rescue operations, said. He said the process for identifying the remaining 81 bodies, most of them charred beyond recognition, will begin only after DNA experts from Hyderabad arrived here tomorrow.

The search operation to locate the black box and the cockpit voice recorder, among other things, at the Mangalore aircrash site was suspended tonight due to darkness.

Sources said the black box or the Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder could not be located from the massive wreckage. The operations, suspended late tonight due darkness, would be resumed tomorrow, they said.

Even when the pilot was given clearance for landing by the Air Traffic Control, he did not report any shortcoming about the aircraft, Patel said. The minister said an inquiry into the accident has been initiated by the DGCA.

According to the Airport Authority of India (AAI), the ATC gave the pilots clearance for landing when the aircraft was about four miles from touchdown. The wind was normal, visibility okay and it was not raining at the time of the incident. The pilots also did not report any problem as they prepared to land at Mangalore. However, other sources said the weather was cloudy and there was a slight drizzle when the aircraft landed in Mangalore.

The airport, which is in a hilly area, about 30 km from the city, was shut down immediately after the mishap but reopened later. Personnel of Director General Civil Aviation (DGCA), which is going to probe the crash, are going to take care of the black box.

Scores of villagers, who scrambled over the hilly terrain, were the first to reach the wreckage and begin rescue operations. The airport's location, on a plateau surrounded by hills, made it difficult for the firefighters to reach the scene.

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