On the evening of August 7, 2020, Air India Express Flight 1344 crashed with 190 people on board during a botched landing attempt at Kozhikode Calicut International Airport. Eighteen people were killed in the Air India crash and more than 150 others sustained injuries.
Officials say the Boeing 737 operating as Air India Express 1344 departed from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and was attempting to land at Kozhikode in the state of Kerala. The flight was filled with Indian nationals who were returning to their home country after being stranded in Dubai due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
The weather during the plane’s approach to the airport was an issue; the rainfall rate was reportedly between one and three inches per hour. Faced with low visibility, the pilot, a decorated ex-military aviator, circled the airport before asking air traffic controllers (ATC) to switch runways.
ATC granted the request and cleared Air India Express Flight 1344 to land on Runway 10, a tabletop runway with a sudden drop-off at the end. Passengers recalled to members of the media that the Boeing 737 swayed violently before touching down. The pilot never gave a warning sign to passengers or indicated that something was wrong.
According to media reporting, at approximately 7:30 p.m. local time, the pilot attempted to land for the second time on a rain-soaked Runway 10, with a tailwind. “There was a big noise during the impact and people started screaming,” said Air India Express 1344 passenger Renjith Panangad.
The plane slid off the end of the runway and careened down a hillside. By the time it came to a complete stop, the aircraft was split in half with large pieces of the passenger cabin scattered along the hillside.
Passengers knew something was wrong the moment the airliner touched the ground. Overhead bins popped open and luggage rained down on people. “The next thing I heard was a loud crashing sound, the loudest sound I’ve ever heard,” said passenger Latheesh Muttooly.
Muttooly, who was in a window seat, smashed his face into the seatback in front of him during the crash, splitting open his chin. Dazed, he took stock of the situation and noticed there was only one row in front of him; the front of the aircraft had been torn off.
According to Mr. Panangad, many people were bleeding. “I still can’t comprehend what happened,” he said from his hospital bed. “As I am trying to recall what happened, my body is shivering.”
The two pilots of Air India Express 1344 were among the fatalities. Days after the crash, most of the survivors remained in more than a dozen area hospitals.
What Caused the Air India Plane Crash on Aug. 7, 2020?
While investigators say the cause of the Air India plane crash will likely not be known for a year or more, the early stages of the inquiry have focused on the actions of the pilot, Deepak Sathe, a former test pilot with the Indian Air Force.
Officials have indicated that the airliner did not touchdown on Runway 10 until after after flying over approximately one-third of its length, more than 3,000 feet. The weather conditions that the pilots faced on August 7th, required the airplane to touch down within the first 500 feet of the runway or perform a go-around, said Arun Kumar, India’s director-general of civil aviation. It is reported that the pilot chose to land with a tailwind, which could be a cause of the airplane landing beyond the touchdown zone and too fast for the conditions.
The weather at the time of the India plane crash is another issue that investigators will consider in their report. In the midst of monsoon season, the pilots attempted to land during a torrential downpour. On the day of the Kozhikode crash, a landslide in another part of Kerala killed at least 20 people.
Passengers also said that the flight crew’s announcements led to confusion in the cabin. According to reports, the in-flight announcements were made in both Hindi and English, the two most widely-spoken languages in India. However, most of the passengers aboard Air India Express Flight 1344 were working-class people who spoke Malayalam, the language spoken in Kerala. Some passengers may not have known that they were supposed to be wearing their seat belts when the plane was landing. Perhaps if they had known, more lives could have been saved.
Lastly, according to the New York Times, Runway 10 at Kozhikode Calicut International Airport is “dangerous.” In 2011, a report submitted to India’s civil aviation agency noted that flights that land on Runway 10 when the prevailing conditions include rain and tailwind “are endangering the lives of all on board.”
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