158 feared dead in India plane crash

2010-05-22 08:12

An Air India Express passenger plane has crashed into flames after

overshooting the runway in the southern city of Mangalore, killing most of the

166 people on board.

The state-run carrier said at least eight people had been rescued

from the burning wreckage of the Boeing 737-800, which was carrying 160

passengers and six crew on a flight from Dubai.

Eyewitnesses said the aircraft had touched down before careering

off the end of the runway into a shallow gorge and bursting into flames.

“As far as the information available with us is concerned, eight

persons were rescued and shifted to local hospitals in Mangalore for treatment,”

Anup Shrivasta, Air India personnel director, told a news briefing in

Mumbai.

One survivor, Umer Farooq, told the NDTV news channel from his

hospital bed that he had heard a loud thud as the plane touched down.

“Then the plane veered off towards some trees on the side and then

the cabin filled with smoke. I got caught in some cables, but managed to

scramble out,” said Farooq, who had burns to his arms, legs, and face.

It was the first major plane crash in India since 2000, when 61

people were killed after a passenger plane crashed into a residential area near

the eastern city of Patna.

Karnataka Home Minister VS Acharya called for local people’s

co-operation in what he called “this hour of crisis”, and urged them to stay

away from the crash site.

“It is feared that most of the people have died,” Acharya told

reporters.

It was not immediately clear what caused the crash.

No distress

call

VP Agrawal, chairman of the Airport Authority of India, told

reporters in New Delhi that there had been no distress call to suggest a

technical fault.

“The visibility was 6km when the aircraft approached the runway,

which was more than sufficient,” Agrawal said.

Air India Express is a subsidiary budget airline operated by the

state-run carrier.

Television images showed that the plane had partially broken up,

with smoke billowing from the main fuselage, as rescue workers sought to douse

the fire with foam.

Rescue teams had to struggle down steep, wooded slopes to reach the

plane, and were shown carrying body parts away from the site.

The airport is located 20km outside the coastal city of Mangalore,

which is 320km west of the Karnataka state capital, Bangalore.

Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel was due to fly to the site

from New Delhi later today.

Many Indians from Karnataka and other southern states work in Gulf

cities such as Dubai as construction workers, domestic staff and in other

low-paid jobs.

They send much of their earnings back to India as remittances, and

return to India for their annual leave.

In a statement, US-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing said it was

sending a team of investigators to India to help with the crash inquiry.

“Boeing wishes to express its profound condolences to the friends

and family of those lost .?.?. as well as its wish for the recovery of those

injured,” it said on its website.

India’s worst aviation accident occurred in 1996, when two

passenger planes collided in midair near New Delhi. All 349 people on board both

flights were killed.

The crash was blamed on a Kazakhstan Airlines plane descending

below its assigned altitude, putting it in the path of a Saudi Arabian Airlines

plane that had taken off minutes earlier from the Indian capital’s airport.



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