18 people killed in aftermath of plane crash on Indian runway

At least 18 people were killed and more than 120 injured when an Air India Express flight from Dubai to Kozhikode crashed late Friday night, after skidding off a runway while landing in heavy monsoon rain in the south Indian state of Kerala.

The plane was traveling to the city, also called Calicut, when it crashed at the Kozhikode International airport in Karipur. It was carrying people returning to India after being stranded abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The aircraft nosedived and cracked in two. Among the 18 dead were both pilots of the Air India Express flight, the airline said in a statement, adding that the four cabin crew were safe.

At least 123 people were injured in the crash, including 15 in critical condition, said Abdul Karim, a senior police officer in southern Kerala state.

About 190 people were on board the plane, including 10 infants, two pilots and four cabin crew, the airline said in a tweet on Friday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was "pained by the plane accident in Kozhikode," and that he had spoken to Kerala's top elected official.

The Air India Express flight was part of the Indian government's special repatriation mission to bring Indian citizens back to the country during the coronavirus pandemic, officials said. All of the passengers were returning from the Gulf region, authorities said.

Image: India plane crash (Reuters)
Image: India plane crash (Reuters)

Kerala state Health Minister KK Shailaja asked local residents who joined the rescue effort to go into quarantine as a precautionary measure. The survivors were also being tested for the virus, officials said.

In a telephone interview from his hospital bed, Renjith Panangad, a plumber who was returning home for the first time in three years after losing his job at a construction company in Dubai, told the Associated Press the plane had swayed before the crash.

"I still can’t comprehend what happened. As I am trying to recall what happened, my body is shivering," said Panangad, who escaped without major injuries.

Searchers also recovered the flight data recorder on Saturday, as the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau said it had started work on the wreckage investigation.

A similar tragedy was narrowly avoided at the same airport a year ago, when an Air India Express flight suffered a tail strike upon landing. None of the 180 passengers on that flight were injured.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep S. Puri said in a statement that the flight had "overshot the runway in rainy conditions and went down" a slope, breaking into two pieces upon impact.

Officials from the aviation regulator said it was too early to tell at this point whether the accident was a result of a technical or human error.