Mangalore (Karnataka), May 22 (Calcutta Tube) Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel Saturday said that a probe had been ordered into the plane crash at Mangalore airport and that it was premature to ascertain the actual cause for the accident that claimed 159 lives.
‘Directorate General of Civil Aviation has already ordered an inquiry. Air India has constituted a team headed by executive director operations to take all necessary steps to establish circumstances, including collection of data pertaining to the accident. The team would assist the DGCA in inquiry into the accident,’ Patel told reporters here.
Patel, who reached the accident site in the afternoon, said that both the pilots at the helm of the aircraft were senior, highly experienced and had made previous landings at the Mangalore airport.
The commander, Z. Glusica, a British national of Serbian origin with over 10,200 hours of flying experience, had flown in and out of Mangalore airport at least 19 times, while copilot H.S. Ahluwalia had operated 66 times from the same airport.
He added that the aircraft was new and had been acquired at the end of 2007. ‘It was hardly two-and-a-half years old… and this aircraft has no defect or malfunction,’ he said.
‘These are preliminary observations. There will be a detailed inquiry,’ he said.
The Air India Express flight 812 flying in from Dubai crashed early Saturday while landing at Mangalore’s ‘table top’ airport surrounded by deep gorges. It erupted in flames when it overshot the runway and plunged down a cliff.
The plane had 166 passengers, including 19 children, four infants and six crew members.
Patel said that the Mangalore airport has a limited spill-over area after the short runway.
‘Because the spill-over area was limited, it (the aircraft) went off a cliff,’ he said.
‘The plane went into the spill-over area, hit the localiser, a wing broke there and the aircraft plunged into the valley 200-300 metre deep,’ he said, adding that the plane did not catch fire immediately.
The minister said the length of the runway had been increased from 6,000 feet to 8,000 feet to factor in landing of bigger aircraft.
He said the aircraft black box, which recordS flight information, would be recovered as the entire wreckage had been found.
Patel also brushed aside suggestions that airport safety norms were defied.
‘India has had a long unblemished record for several years. Unfortunately, this incident has saddened all of us and we are deeply shocked and pained,’ the minister said. ‘If an airport is deemed unsafe, there is no way we one can permit operations there.’
About the operations to recover and identify bodies, he said that as the bodies were badly burnt, it would take some time for health authorities to identify the victims and hand them over to their next of kin.
Patel added that since India is a signatory to the 1999 Montreal convention, the families of those who had died would be paid up to $160,000. The injured would also be given suitable compensation and their treatment would be paid for by the airline.