Mangalore/Mumbai/Kasargod, May 23 (Calcutta Tube) A day after the air disaster in Mangalore claimed 158 lives, investigators Sunday found the plane’s ‘black box’ to put together the last moments of the ill-fated aircraft while families, a large number of them from Kerala, went through the painful task of identifying their loved ones and cremating or burying them.
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 Wenlock Hospital in Mangalore as grieving relatives and friends went through the traumatic experience of looking at scores of badly burnt bodies to identify them.
For the kin of around dozen victims, the 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.
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 caught fire after plunging about 300 metres off a cliff.
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 in one of the worse tragedies in Indian aviation history. All eight are said to be out of danger.
In Wenlock hospital, most of the victims’ relatives were too numbed to talk and preferred to be left alone to grieve.
The bodies of Mumbai-based co-pilot Capt. H.S. Ahluwalia and Thane’s airhostess Tejal Kamulkar were also identified.
A massive search operation was launched at the accident site to find the black box of the aircraft that can provide crucial clues to tragedy.
By evening, Mangalore airport sources claimed the black box – the digital cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder – was located by a Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) team.
However, a formal announcement was yet to be made by DGCA.
With 30 funerals Sunday morning, Kasargod and Kannur, the two northern districts of Kerala were clearly in mourning.
At least 66 victims of the air crash were Malayalis. Fifty-four of them 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 had been 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, had seen off his wife Rosili and two kids after a vacation in Dubai. But people back home are now waiting for him to come back after Rosilli and their two children, aged six and nine, died in Saturday’s accident.
‘We are all waiting for Shibhu to arrive from Dubai. 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 rather than the one in Kozhikode as the former is closer home.
In Mumbai, an Air India spokesperson said Special Assistance Team and Angels of Air India members team to each of the survivors and families of victims to assist them in all possible ways.
The airline will also operate additional special flights to ferry families of the victims to Mangalore, the spokesman said.
The state-run carrier’s general manager Harpreet A.D. Singh, who is currently the emergency coordinator, said relatives of the victims coming from abroad will get three-days’ interim visas with the help of central government.