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Saviour airplane breaks into two in Kerala

An Air India Express repatriation flight from Dubai skidded off a wet tabletop runway, dropped 40 feet, smashed into a wall and broke into two after landing during heavy rain at the Calicut International Airport in north Kerala on Friday, killing at least 18 people.

Among the dead were the Vande Bharat flight’s captain-in-command, Deepak Vasanth Sathe, his co-pilot Akhilesh Kumar and an 18-month-old child, officials said in Kerala.

The impact of the crash completely destroyed the cockpit and ripped the fuselage until the front door, the officials said. Most of the dead were in the front seats.

Out of the 190 people on board, all survivors have been admitted to two hospitals. It was not clear if each suffered injuries or whether some have been hospitalized as a precautionary measure. The Boeing 737 was carrying 184 passengers, two pilots and four cabin crew members.

The flight was carrying several people who had lost their jobs, suggested a purported Vande Bharat passenger list which mentions the “compelling” reason for travel during the pandemic outbreak.

Based on preliminary accounts, aviation veterans suggested the first attempt to land amid heavy rain was aborted and the accident took place during the second attempt. The veterans added that landing requires more runway length if rain has made the surface slippery.

Tabletop runways — called so because one or both of their ends could be adjacent to a steep precipice — are usually shorter than the others.

In May 2010, an Air India Express from Dubai had overshot a similar tabletop runway in Mangalore, Karnataka, fallen into a deep valley and burst into flames, killing all but 8 of the 166 on board.

Many among the 190 people on board suffered limb fractures; some had head and neck injuries. As many as 10 infants were on the plane, and a mother and her child were critical.

It was a “miracle” that so many had survived, Riaz, who is from the neighborhood, told reporters, adding that heavy rain had left the runway slippery when the 7.41pm accident happened.

Passengers with minor injuries told reporters from various hospitals that the flight had hovered over the airport once before landing.

“I felt the wheels touching down before realizing that the aircraft was going down. Luckily, I was seated at the emergency exit. I opened the door and jumped out of the aircraft and ran until some local people took me to hospital,” said a young passenger named Riaz.