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158 killed as Dubai flight crashes in South India

New Delhi, May 22, 2010

An Air India Express passenger plane from Dubai crashed outside the Mangalore airport in southern India on Saturday, killing 158 people when it burst into flames after overshooting a table-top runway and plunging into forest below.

There were only eight survivors after the Boeing 737-800, with 166 people on board including crew, appeared to have skidded off the runway in rain at Mangalore airport in Karnataka state, Air India director Anup Srivastava said.

'We had no hope to survive, but we survived,' Pradeep, a survivor who is a technician working in Dubai, told local television.

'The plane broke into two and we jumped off the plane. As soon as the plane landed, within seconds this happened.'

Local television showed a fireman carrying what seemed to be the remains of a child across the smoking wreckage. Charred bodies lay in the forested terrain.

The flight manifest said the 160 passengers included 137 adults, nine children and four infants. All the passengers were Indian nationals, an Air India official in Dubai said.

Many were likely migrant workers in Dubai. The pilot was Serbian and said to be very experienced.

Air India Express is the budget arm of the loss making state-run carrier Air India, which has been fending off growing competition from private airlines.

Indications are that the crash was an accident, officials said. One TV report said the plane hit a radar pole on landing.

'There was no distress indication from the pilot. That means between the pilot and the airport communication there was no indication of any problem,' VP Agarwal, director of Airports Authority of India told local television.

Meanwhile the UAE media said that the black box has been recovered from the plane.

'The black box of the aircraft has been recovered and the mandatory court of inquiry ordered by the Director General of Civil Aviation,' Emirati state news agency WAM reported from India.

Television channels said the plane crashed around 6:30 a.m. (0100 GMT). TV images showed it struck a forested area. Flames were seen blazing from the wreckage as rescue workers fought to bring the fire under control.

'While landing at the airport, the plane deviated and hit something,' said Krishna, another survivor. 'It caught fire and we fell out. We looked up and saw some opening and came out through that route.'

It was India's first major crash in a decade, which has seen a boom in private carriers amid growing demand from the country’s middle class.

A series of near misses at major airports, including Delhi and Mumbai, have sparked debate about how creaking infrastructure was failing to keep pace with an economic boom.

Law Minister Veerappa Moily told CNN-IBN TV that he had opened a new runway at Mangalore airport just 10 days ago. The Air India plane was two years old.

Boeing said in a statement it was sending a team to provide technical assistance to the crash investigation.

The last major crash in India was in July, 2000, when an Alliance Air Boeing 737-200 crashed into a residential area during a second landing attempt in Patna, killing at least 50 people.

With growing competition from private carriers, the government agreed to infuse $1.1 billion into loss-making Air India if it found the same amount in cost cuts and extra revenue. The airline lost $875 million in the fiscal year ended March 2009.

Hundreds of Air India pilots went on strike in September 2009 to protest management plans to cut pay incentives. The strike was called off when aviation minister Praful Patel said the grievances would be dealt with.




Tags: Dubai | Plane Crash | New Delhi | Air India Express | Mangalore |

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