Investigation on, black box found
Investigators yesterday sifted through the charred wreckage of an Indian passenger plane that overshot the runway and plunged into a ravine, killing 158 people on board.
The Air India Express Boeing 737-800, carrying 160 passengers and six crew on a flight from Dubai, careered off the "table-top" runway at Bajpe airport on Saturday.
Some of the eight people who survived the crash about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the southwest coastal city of Mangalore told how they had escaped as the fuselage broke into pieces and filled with thick smoke.
Harpreet Singh, Air India's emergency response coordinator, said at a press briefing in Mumbai yesterday that all 158 bodies had been recovered, and 87 had been identified and claimed by relatives.
Meanwhile, PTI reports, the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) of the ill-fated aircraft were yesterday recovered from the crash site and are expected to provide vital clues about the cause of the accident.
The CVR, which provides conversation details between the pilot and air traffic control and within the cockpit, and the FDR or the Black Box', containing technical data, were removed from the wreckage of the aircraft yesterday morning, the airline sources said.
Teams, probing the air tragedy had begun their operations early this morning to locate the CVR and the FDR, they said.
Certain other instruments and aircraft portions, which would be of help in the investigation, have also been extricated from the plane's debris, they said.
The probe into the crash resumed at first light yesterday with the wreckage area cordoned off. Immediately after the accident, crowds of local residents had streamed to the site to help rescue victims.
"At times we dragged them by a hand or by the leg," Mohammed Azim, one of the first people to reach the plane, told the CNN-IBN news channel. "Bodies were topped on each other."
About 25 investigators used mechanical metal-cutters to start their examination of the plane's remains, while hired labourers cleaned up debris scattered widely across the muddy slopes.
The few survivors of India's worst aviation disaster in 14 years described hearing a loud thud shortly after touchdown.
Officials said the landing conditions were fair with good visibility and reported there had been no distress call from the cockpit.
Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, who flew to the crash site, said on Saturday that eight passengers had survived.
It was the country's deadliest crash since 1996 when two passenger planes collided in mid-air near New Delhi with the loss of all 349 on board both flights.
One survivor, Umer Farooq, spoke to reporters from his hospital bed where he was being treated for burns to his arms, legs and face.
"The plane veered off toward some trees on the side and then the cabin filled with smoke," he said. "I got caught in some cables but managed to scramble out."
Television images from the immediate aftermath of the crash showed smoke billowing from the fuselage as emergency crews, who struggled down steep, wooded slopes to reach the aircraft, doused the fire with foam.
"The preliminary observation is that the aircraft touched down and did not contain itself within the runway space," minister Patel said.
He described the chief pilot, a Serbian national, as a "very experienced" flier who had logged 10,000 hours of flying time.
Stressing that it was too early to determine the precise cause of the crash, Patel noted that the sanded safety area surrounding the runway in the event of an overshoot was shorter than at some airports.
"It does not have much of a spillover area and in this case apparently it had not been able to stop the plane," he said.
Air India Express is a budget airline operated as a subsidiary by the state-run carrier. Many of the passengers were Indian migrant workers returning from jobs in the Gulf to visit their families.
US-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing said it was sending a team of investigators to India to help in the inquiry.
The last major plane crash in India was in 2000, when 61 people were killed after a passenger jet plunged into a residential area near the eastern city of Patna.
The country's air safety record has been good in recent years despite the rapid increase in airlines keen to serve increasingly wealthy domestic customers.
The disaster came as Air India is struggling to turn round its finances after posting a net loss of more than one billion dollars last year.