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MANGALORE, India: It was a miraculous escape for seven passengers on board an Air India Express flight with 166 people on board that overshot a hilltop runway in southern India and plunged over a cliff.
At least 159 people were killed when the packed flight from Dubai crashed while landing at Mangalore’s “table top” Bajpe airport, breaking into pieces and falling into a deep gorge in balls of fire.
Though it had been raining for two days, there was clear visibility with no wind when the Boeing 737-800 with 160 passengers, including 19 children and four infants, as well as six crew members overshot the runway at 6.05am, authorities and witnesses said.
There was no distress call from pilot Z Glusica, a British national of Serbian origin, who had received due landing clearance four miles from touchdown. Indian Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said after visiting the crash site that flight IX812 ploughed through a wall of sandbags and veered off course. As it did so, one of its wings crashed into a concrete landing aid and it broke up and plunged about 200-300 metres into the gorge.
Qatar’s Emir H H Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Heir Apparent H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister H E Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al Thani sent cables of condolence to Indian President Pratibha Patil on the death of 159 people in the crash.
Eight people, including an infant, were the initial survivors. However, a four-year-old girl died on the way to hospital, where some of the injured remained in critical condition. All passengers were Indians, many returning home from Dubai where they worked. An estimated 50 were from Kerala.
The survivors managed to jump out of the aeroplane soon after it hit the ground.
“I can’t believe I survived the crash,” said Pradeep. “There were vibrations before the plane crashed. As soon as it hit the ground, I managed to get out and jump into a pit. There was smoke all over as the plane caught fire. After 10 minutes, there was an explosion,” he said.
According to most of the survivors, the fuselage of the aircraft split into two.