Saw the aircraft plunge towards us: CISF officer
The Air India Express plane, carrying 190 passengers and crew from Dubai, skidded off the tabletop runway amid heavy rain before it plunged, killing 18 people on board in India’s worst passenger aircraft accident since 2010.Updated: Aug 09, 2020 09:39 IST
Ajeet Singh, 31, a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) assistant sub-inspector, was on patrolling duty at the Calicut International Airport on Friday when he heard an ear-splitting sound. As Singh turned about, he saw an aircraft at the edge of the airport’s runway as it plunged into the valley and crashed hardly 20 metres from the CISF’s security post where he was standing.
The Air India Express plane, carrying 190 passengers and crew from Dubai, skidded off the tabletop runway amid heavy rain before it plunged, killing 18 people on board in India’s worst passenger aircraft accident since 2010.
“I was from 1pm-9pm shift [duty] and was checking the register at our CISF security post where ASI [assistant sub-inspector] Mangal Singh was on duty. Soon, as we saw the plane plunge towards us, as an instinctive reaction, both of us ran away from the site as it appeared that the aircraft will fall on us. Seconds later, as we realised the plane was full of passengers, we ran towards it. It had [by then] broken into three pieces — tail, body, and cockpit,” Singh said.
Singh, who was the first respondent at the crash site and the first rescuer to enter the damaged aircraft, said the he alerted the quick reaction teams and the CISF control room immediately. He added that they, in turn, alerted the agencies concerned — local police, Airports Authority of India (AAI), National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), and firefighters.
“After alerting others, I entered the aircraft. The first person I pulled out safely was a senior citizen who had his legs stuck between his seat and an iron angle...I also picked up a six-month-old child and brought him out safely.” Singh added many passengers were unconscious and some crying in pain or for help. “Most of them had their bodies entangled... There were many children, even infants.”
Singh said his priority was to pull out those who were still alive and could move around without assistance. He added that the aircraft fuel was flowing out heavily, and they feared it might catch fire. “But probably because it was raining heavily, the debris did not catch fire despite a lot of fuel spilled around.”
“Because of the force with which the cockpit must have crashed into the wall, it was completely damaged. Probably this was the reason the two pilots could not be saved. A portion of the wall has also collapsed.”
A First Information Report over the accident was filed on the basis of his statement.
At least 50 CISF personnel, officials from Kerala police, AAI staff, firefighters, airline crew and 20-30 civilians joined the rescue operation that lasted close to three hours.
Deputy commandant Kishor Kumar AV, the chief airport security officer (CASO) at the airport who led the rescue operation, acknowledged Singh’s role. “Our control room then informed all the agencies...,” Kumar said.
“One of the major challenges was visibility. It was dark and the area had been put on red alert due to heavy rain. Also, a lot of fuel had spilled out from the plane, which could have caught fire; there could have even been an explosion. Despite the risk, our men continued the rescue and did not step back even once,” he said.
Soon, rescue officials arrived at the spot with emergency lights and other equipment. “The cutters and other equipment were used to cut cables and metallic body of the aircraft and make way for the rescue teams to enter the aircraft and pull out passengers safely,” the deputy commander said.
Kumar said most challenging was to bring out the two pilots, who were found unconscious and later declared dead.
“Because of the impact of the crash, cockpit cabin got separated from the rest of the aircraft and had rammed the perimeter wall of the airport. The speed of the plane must have been very high because the cockpit cabin got stuck into the wall. We found a JCB machine on the main road across the wall. It was used to demolish a portion of the wall. The firefighters and medical staff then used equipment to cut open the body of the aircraft to pull out the two pilots. Their rescue alone took close to an hour. Their bodies were badly damaged. Both of them were rushed to the hospital without any delay,” the officer said.
Special director general, CISF, MA Ganapathy said after moving all the passengers safely to hospitals, officials started taking their luggage out.
“It was a mammoth task because many people on the flight were returning after year; they had a lot of luggage full of valuable like jewellery, electronics and cash. CISF, along with the local police, carefully preserved the luggage of the passengers, which will be returned to them in due time,” he said