Crash pilot 'very experienced'
Mangalore - India's aviation minister said the pilot of the Air India plane that crashed on Saturday was "very experienced" and suggested a short runway overrun area could have contributed to the disaster.
The Boeing 737 overshot the runway's landing zone and plunged into a gorge near the southern Indian city of Mangalore killing 158 people in India's worst civil aviation disaster for 14 years.
Minister Praful Patel said the chief pilot Z Glusica - officially identified as a Serbian national - had logged more than 10 000 hours of flying time and was familiar with the table-top runway, having landed there nearly 20 times in the past.
Patel said landing conditions had been fair with good visibility, but noted that the sanded safety area surrounding the runway in the event of an overshoot was shorter than at some airports.
"Mangalore does not have much of a spillover area (and) in this case apparently it had not been able to stop the plane," Patel said.
"We can certainly say from preliminary findings that everything otherwise, except the touchdown and the stopping of the plane ... appeared to be normal," he added.
The minister stressed it was "too early" to determine the precise cause of the crash and said an official probe had already begun.
VP Agrawal, chairperson of the Airport Authority of India, told reporters in New Delhi that there had been no distress call from the cockpit to suggest a technical fault.
Boeing sending investigators
US-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing said it was sending a team of investigators to India to help in the crash inquiry.
The Air India flight from Dubai had tried to land on Mangalore's second runway which is 2.6km long.
India's Civil Aviation Secretary Madhavan Nambiar said the Mangalore runway logged 32 000 aircraft landings since it became operational in 2006.
Nambiar also said the plane's digital flight data recorder - popularly known as the "black box" had yet to be retrieved from the crash site.