Air India jet breaks in two in Kerala killing 16

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An Air India Express flight with passengers on board en route from Dubai skidded off the runway while landing, in Kozhikode, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (PTI Photo)

(BBC) An Air India Express plane with 191 people on board has crashed at an airport in the southern state of Kerala, killing at least 16 people, officials say.

The aircraft, en route from Dubai, skidded off the runway and broke in two at Calicut airport upon landing, India’s aviation authority said.

Rescue efforts are under way, with emergency services at the scene.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “pained by the plane accident”.

MK Raghavan, a lawmaker from Calicut, told the BBC at least 16 people died in the crash.

Most people on board the Boeing 737 jet have been evacuated, with at dozens of them taken to hospital with injuries, some serious, authorities said.

“We have at least 89 people, many of them with serious injuries, admitted at different Kozhikode hospitals. The ambulances are still coming in,” a senior police official, Sujith Das, told AFP news agency.

The airline said there were 184 passengers – including 10 children and seven crew members, of which two were pilots – on board flight IX-1344 when it crashed in rainy conditions at Calicut, also known as Kozhikode.

The flight was being operated by the government to repatriate Indians stuck overseas during the coronavirus crisis.

What do we know about the crash?

The plane attempted to land just before 20:00 local time (15:30 BST) on Friday, as heavy monsoon-season rainfall lashed Kerala.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said the plane fell into a valley and broke in two after skidding off the end of the runway. No fire was reported at the time of landing, the aviation regulator said.

In a tweet India’s Civil Aviation Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, said the aircraft “overshot the runway in rainy conditions”, then plunged down a 35ft (10.6m) slope, before breaking in two.

He said a formal inquiry will be carried out by India’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB).

Images broadcast by Indian media show the aircraft broken in two pieces at the bottom of the slope, with people searching through the wreckage.

The aircraft circled the airport several times and made two attempts to land, NDTV reported, citing flight-tracking data.

At the time of the plane’s descent, Kerala was being battered by heavy rains, which are usual in India at this time of year, due to the seasonal monsoon.

Earlier on Friday, dozens of people were feared dead in Kerala’s Idukki district after monsoon-season floods triggered a landslide.

What reaction has there been?

India’s prime minister tweeted to express his sympathy for “those who lost their loved ones” in the crash.

The Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, said he spoke on the phone to Mr Modi, who told him the government would provide medical and rescue support.

Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah said he was “distressed” about the crash and has instructed the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to reach the site as soon as possible.

Rahul Gandhi, who is an MP for a district in Kerala, said he was “shocked at the devastating news of the plane mishap in Kozhikode”.