AI defends pilots, kin bid tearful adieu to dear ones

Mangalore/Mumbai/Kasargod, May 23 (Calcutta Tube) A day after the Mangalore air crash claimed 158 lives, the Air India Sunday defended its pilots, asserting they were experianced and well rested, as the shocked families, many of them from Kerala, went through the painful task of identifying their loved ones and conducting their last rites.

At least 146 bodies, mostly charred beyond recognition, were identified by the families by Sunday evening, Air India chairman-cum-managing director Arvind Jadhav said in Mangalore.

Emotional scenes were witnessed at the Government Wenlock Hospital in Mangalore as grieving relatives and friends went through the traumatic experience of having to pick their lost loved ones from the scores of badly burnt bodies.

For the kin of about a dozen victims, however, the agonising wait may be longer as DNA tests will be necessary to establish their identity.

‘We are hopeful another seven to eight bodies will be identified by the family members while DNA test may become necessary to identify around 20 victims,’ Deputy Superintendent of Police (Mangalore) R. Rajesh said.

All the victims were Indians working or settled in the Gulf. Among the dead were 19 children and four infants.

There were just eight survivors, who were either thrown out or jumped out from the burning wreckage in one of the worse tragedies in Indian aviation history. All eight are said to be out of danger.

In Government Wenlock hospital, most of the victims’ relatives were too numbed to talk and preferred to be left alone to grieve.

The Air India Express IX 812 Dubai-Mangalore flight overshot the runway Saturday morning while landing at the Bajpe airport, about 20 km from Mangalore, and burst into flames after plunging about 300 metres off a cliff.

Jhadav, however, maintained that both the pilots were highly experieanced with thousands of flying hours behind them.

Flight commander Z. Glusica, a British national of Serbian origin, and co-pilot H.S. Ahluwalia had three-and-a-half days’ rest too prior to flying the Boeing 737, Jadhav told a press conference here.

Asked if the crash could have been caused by pilot fatigue, Jhadav sad: ‘No…both were well-rested. We had very nice aircrafts and well-qualified experienced pilots.’

As an air crash, specially one involving international flights, entails questions of insurance and compensation for huge amounts by international insurers, the speculative reports pinning the blame on one or the other would undermine the victims’ interest, Jadhav said.

‘All these speculations will only hurt the victims, their relatives and the survivors in terms of getting justice for them and in terms of getting compensation for them.’

The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in a statement said the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and a part of the black box containing the digital flight data acquisition unit (DFDAU) of the plane were handed over to it by the search party.

Neighbouring Kerala mourned death of 66 Malayalis in the crash.

In Kasargod and Kannur, the two northern districts of the state Kerala, 30 funerals took place Sunday morning.

Of the 66 victims, 54 have been identified.

Pareppu, a small village in Kasargod was witness to seven funerals.

One of the tragic tales is of 46-year-old Abdul Samad from Kannur. He was coming from Dubai to see his wife and children after three years. He was in Dubai for 18 years.

‘He was supposed to come for his vacation last week. For some reason he postponed his trip by a week. His wife and kids were at the arrival lounge when the aircraft burst into flames,’ Samad’s relative told IANS from Kannur.

Shibhu, an IT professional, saw off his wife Rosili and two kids aged six and ninein Dubai after their vacation. Back home, people are now waiting for him to come for their funeral.

‘We are all waiting for Shibhu. Rosili’s parents have now been told of the tragedy,’ said one of Rosili’s relatives.

Most expats in northern districts of Kerala prefer Mangalore international airport in Karnataka to Kozhikode as it is closer home.

In Mumbai, an Air India spokesperson said Special Assistance Team and Angels of Air India members have been assigned to assist each of the survivors and families of victims in all possible ways.

The airline will also operate additional special flights to ferry families of the victims to Mangalore, the spokesman said.

Air India’s general manager Harpreet A.D. Singh, who is the emergency coordinator, said relatives of the victims coming from abroad will get three-days interim visas with the help of central government.

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