Plane crash in Mangalore kills 158, eight survive

  • Salil Mekaad and Srinivasan Nandgopal, Hindustan Times, Mangalore
  • Updated: Jul 20, 2011 13:52 IST

An Air India Express plane crashed into a gorge after overshooting the runway at Mangalore airport on Saturday, killing 158 people, in one of the country's worst aviation disasters.

The bodies of the victims were so charred that the state government said they would have to be identified with DNA tests.

The body count included 33 women and 20 children.

Flight IX-812, a Boeing 737-800 coming from Dubai with 166 people on board, overshot the runway around 6.25 am, officials and eyewitnesses said.

The Mangalore airport is considered to be a tricky landing track, being a 'table top' airport, situated on top of a sheared-off hill.

Joel Pratap D' Souza, 24, had a seat near the part of the aircraft that broke open during the crash.

"Thank goodness the aircraft had broken apart, as there was no other way to escape with the doors and windows firmly closed," he said.

Joel was the first one to jump out, showing the way to other survivors.

Others were not so lucky.

For 24-year-old Saudi businessman Sameer A Shaikh, who was going to attend the last rites of his grandmother in Mangalore, the crash was a double blow, as he lost 16 relatives in it.

At least 66 victims are believed to be from Kerala.

An inquiry by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation has been ordered into the crash, and an Air India team will assist it in the probe, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said.

Patel told reporters preliminary observations showed there was no problem with the four-year-old runway or the aircraft.

The black box of the aircraft is yet to be found.

Patel met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and offered to resign but the PM rejected the resignation offer, sources close to him told Hindustan Times.

Hundreds of people, mostly relatives and family members of the victims, gathered at the Government Wenlock Hospital in Mangalore where the bodies were kept for identification. Till Saturday night, 72 bodies were identified of which 52 were claimed.

The aircraft was commandeered by Zlatko Eluscia, a British national of Serbian origin, who had 10,000 hours of flying experience and had been operating in India for two years.

Karnataka has declared a one-day state mourning and announced compensation of Rs 2 lakh for the kin of the deceased.

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