India crash: Human error possible
Mangalore - India's civil aviation minister said on Monday that a human error might have caused the crash of an Air India Boeing 737-800 plane that killed 158 people over the weekend.
Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told the CNN-IBN television news channel that weather conditions and other factors at the time the plane reached its destination "looked absolutely normal for a regular touchdown and a safe landing".
"You can't rule out a human error factor," Patel said.
Only an inquiry could establish what exactly went wrong as the aircraft overshot the hilltop runway and crashed and plunged over a cliff and into a ravine at dawn Saturday on the outskirts of the southern Indian city of Mangalore, he said.
Of the 166 passengers and crew aboard, only eight people survived the crash.
Patel said there was no rain in the area and visibility was good at the time of the plane's landing.
Investigators and aviation officials searched through the wreckage of the Boeing 737-800 strewn across a hillside to try to determine the cause of India's worst air disaster in more than a decade. They recovered the cockpit voice recorder which they hope will give them important clues, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
A four-member US forensic team also arrived in India to help in the investigation, said Harpreet Singh, an Air India spokesperson.
By Sunday evening, 146 of the 158 bodies had been identified and handed to grieving relatives for burial, said Arvind Jadhav, Air India's chairman and managing director.
Doctors were conducting DNA tests on 22 bodies that were so badly burned that relatives could not identify them, said Suresh Babu, an official at Wenlock hospital in Mangalore. They included a 2-year-old boy.
The black box would be sent to New Delhi for decoding and further investigations, officials said.
The flight from Dubai to Mangalore carried some of the millions of Indians who work as cheap labour in the Middle East back to their families for a rare visit during India's summer holiday season.
Aviation experts said the eight survivors were seated in the centre of the aircraft, near where it broke open, and they managed to get out before a fireball engulfed the plane.
"In this case it was pure luck of the draw," said Sidney Dekker, a professor of flight safety at the School of Aviation at Sweden's Lund University. "The luck of where you are in the airplane is relative to how the fuselage disintegrates going into the ravine."
The crash was the deadliest in India since a November 1996 midair collision killed 349 people. Saturday's crash happened when the plane overshot the runway, airline officials said. Aviation experts said the Mangalore airport's "tabletop" runway, which ends in a valley, makes a bad crash inevitable when a plane does not stop in time.
Kapil Kaul, an aviation expert at the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, said that while India's air safety record is very good, he hopes the crash will push officials to establish an independent national safety board to ensure standards remain high as the booming economy drives more traffic into the skies.