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Air India survivor shares horrifying account after hilltop plane crash which left at least 18 dead

A man who survived a plane crash in India has described the terrifying moment of impact which has left at least 18 people dead.

Both pilots were among those killed after the Air India Express plane flying from Dubai to Calicut with 191 passengers onboard skidded on runway and crashed into a valley. 

The two pilots tried to land in heavy rain after already aborting their first attempt and circling over the airport at its destination for 20 minutes.

The plane overshot the runway and skidded into a 30ft-deep valley at Calicut airport, in the Indian State of Kerala, at around 7.45pm (2.45pm GMT) yesterday. 

Images circulating on social media show an aircraft ruptured into two parts laying in a valley. Four passengers are thought to be trapped in the wreckage.

There were 174 adult passengers, 10 infants, two pilots and four cabin crew on board.

In a telephone interview from his hospital bed, Renjith Panangad, a plumber who was returning home for the first time in three years after losing his job at a construction company in Dubai, said the plane swayed before the crash and everything went dark.

He said he followed other passengers who crawled their way out of the fuselage through the emergency door.

'A lot of passengers were bleeding,' said Panangad, who escaped without major injuries. 'I still can't comprehend what happened. As I am trying to recall what happened, my body is shivering.'

He said the pilot made a regular announcement before landing, and moments after the plane hit the runway, it nosedived.

'There was a big noise during the impact and people started screaming,' he said.

Officials are on scene investigating after at least 18 people were killed when the Air India Express plane overshot the runway and crashed into a slope at the Calicut International Airport

A security official inspects the wreckage of the plane which was carrying 191 people on board 

Dozens of people were seriously injured in the crash which happened at about 7.45pm

The plane swayed violently as it approached a hilltop runway, in the Kerala region of India, drenched in monsoon rain, and moments later the special return flight for Indians stranded abroad by the pandemic skidded off, nosedived and cracked in two, leaving 18 dead and more than 120 injured. 

Amitabh Kant, who heads the government's planning commission, said the runway is on a hilltop with deep gorges on either side, making it difficult to land.

'The incident happened because of heavy rains and poor visibility. This is truly devastating,' he told NDTV. 

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep S. Puri said in a statement that the flight 'overshot the runway in rainy conditions and went down' the slope, breaking into two pieces upon impact.

As the rain stopped Saturday morning, searchers recovered a flight data recorder as the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau started work on the wreckage. Air India Express said its teams also reached Calicut to support and assist families of the victims.

Questions dogging investigators would include not only the aircraft, weather and pilots but also the runway itself. Its end safety area was expanded in 2018 to accommodate wide-body aircraft.

The runway end safety area meets United Nations international civil aviation requirements, but the U.N. agency recommends a buffer that is 150 meters (492 feet) longer than that at Kozhikode airport, according to Harro Ranter, chief executive of the Aviation Safety Network online database.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that the country's aviation regulator had sought an explanation from the director of the Kozhikode airport in 2019 on finding 'various critical safety lapses,' which included cracks on the runway, water stagnation and excessive rubber deposits.

Dubai-based aviation consultant Mark Martin said that while it was too early to determine the cause of the crash, annual monsoon conditions appeared to be a factor.

'Low visibility, wet runway, low cloud base, all leading to very poor braking action is what looks like led to where we are at the moment with this crash,' Martin said, calling for the European Aviation Safety Agency and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to assist with the Indian government's investigation.

The two pilots tried to land in heavy rain after already aborting their first attempt and circling over Calicut airport, in the Indian State of Kerala, for 20 minutes. Pictured, rescuers head inside the plane

Injured passengers have been rushed to the Medical College Hospital in Kozhikode, Kerala

The Air India Express flight that skidded off a runway while landing at the airport in Kozhikode

According to police reports, Captain Deepak Vasant Sathe (pictured), and at least 17 others were killed by the impact of the crash when the plane overshot the runway in bad weather

Kerala state Health Minister KK Shailaja asked local residents who joined the rescue effort to go into quarantine as a precautionary measure. The survivors were being tested for the virus, officials said.

The Air India Express flight was part of the Indian government's special repatriation mission to bring Indian citizens back to the country, officials said.

All of the passengers were returning from the Gulf region, authorities said.

Regular commercial flights have been halted in India because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was 'pained by the plane accident in Kozhikode,' and that he had spoken to Kerala's top elected official.

Air India Express is a subsidiary of Air India.

The worst air disaster in India was on Nov. 12, 1996, when a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight collided midair with a Kazakhastan Airlines Flight near Charki Dadri in Haryana state, killing all 349 on board the two planes.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri last night told national broadcaster DD News that only an investigation would reveal the cause of the crash.

Puri said authorities managed to rescue most of the passengers because the plane did not catch fire while descending the slope at the end of the runway.

People gather to see the wreckage of the Air India Express jet at Calicut International Airport

The wreckage of the Air India Express jet shows it was cut in two when it hit the ground

An Air India Express plane flying from Dubai to Calicut, also known as Kozhikode, with 191 passengers onboard has crashed into a valley after overshooting the runway at its destination

Crowds gathered at the site of the crash in Kerala as 15 ambulances sped towards the scene. Injured passengers have been rushed to a nearby hospital

Images circulating on social media show an aircraft ruptured into two parts laying in a valley near Calicut airport, in the Indian state of Kerala

Pictured: An aerial view shows fire engines racing to the scene of the crash today near to Calicut airport in India's Kerala 

A part of the Air India Express flight is seen through a broken wall after it skidded off a runway

Teams conduct search and rescue operation at the site after the Air India Express plane crash

Luggage was seen discarded by the crash site as injured passengers were pulled out of the wreckage and sent to hospitals

Rescue workers look for survivors after a passenger plane crashed when it overshot the runway at the Calicut International Airport

The plane was split in half by the impact of the 30ft fall into a valley after landing in heavy rain

Indian Home Minister Amit Shah said in a tweet that he was 'distressed to learn about the tragic accident of Air India Express aircraft at Kozhikode.'

It was a repatriation flight carrying Indian citizens back to the country, officials said. 

Regular commercial flights have been halted in India because of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Air India Express said in a statement that there was 'no fire reported at the time of landing.'

It said there were 174 passengers, 10 infants, two pilots and five cabin crew on board the aircraft. 

Television pictures showed part of the fuselage of the Air India Express jet ripped apart, although there was no sign of any fire, at Kozhikode airport in the southern state of Kerala. 

First responders inspect the wreckage of an Air India Express jet, which was carrying more than 190 passengers and crew from Dubai

The two halves of the plane can be seen clearly in this picture. The aircraft nose dived into a valley after skidding off the runway

Part of the plant knocked a hole in a brick wall at the edge of the airport in Kerala on Friday

An ambulance carrying injured passengers leaves for a hospital as onlookers watch on

The wreckage of an Air India Express jet, which was carrying more than 190 passengers and crew from Dubai, is pictured after it crashed by overshooting the runway

Health workers transfer an inured passenger on a stretcher to take her inside a hospital in Kozhikode, Kerela

An injured passenger is surrounded by healthcare workers as they prepare to treat her 

Medical personnel in personal protective gear stand as people injured are attended to at the Medical College Hospital in Kozhikode

Medical personnel in personal protective wear stand next to bodies of victims after the Air India Express flight skidded off the runway

One television channel reported there had been a problem with the jet's landing gear. 

There were ten infants onboard, according to reports. A photograph of a young girl who was allegedly on the plane and was found without a guardian has been circulating on social media.

A post reads: 'This kid is found from spot where plane accident occurred. Nobody is with her and she is taken to Kondotty Hospital. Please share this.'

It is not known if the tweet is genuine but a second post claims the child has since been reunited with her parents.

Officials inspect the wreckage site of a plane crash at Calicut airport in Kozhikode, India

Ambulances were called to the site of the wreckage. Officials helped to rescue survivors from the crashed plane

One post claimed the plane was circling over the runway for 20 minutes before it made to land

Rows of ambulances are seen outside the Calicut International Airport where a passenger plane crashed after it overshot the runway in Karipur

One of the persons injured after an Air India Express flight skidded off a runway while landing at the Kozhikode airport is brought for treatment to the Medical College Hospital in Kozhikode

Reports suggested the plane 'skidded' off the runway after trying to land in heavy rain

'Dubai-Kozhikode Air India flight (IX-1344) skidded during landing at Karipur Airport at around 7.45 pm (2.45pm GMT) today,' Kondotty Police told news agency ANI yesterday. 

According to local media, 15 ambulances attended the crash and have rushed the injured passengers and crew to nearby hospitals.  

'Second tragedy of the day in Kerala: Air India Express skids off the runway at Kozhikode, front portion splits, the pilot dies and lots of passengers injured,' wrote former Minister of State for Tourism KJ Alphons. 

'All passengers evacuated. Very lucky the aircraft didn't catch fire.' 

Reports said dozens of passengers were taken to hospital and that there were at least 20 critically injured.  

An aerial shot of the airport shows the runway. Amitabh Kant, who heads the government's planning commission, said the runway is on a hilltop with deep gorges on either side, making it difficult to land

A Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) statement confirmed the plane had landed in heavy rain before skidding into the valley

Data suggested the plane had already aborted its first attempt at landing. A figure showing the plane's flight path shows it was forced to turn around and try again

There were ten infants onboard, according to reports. A photograph of a young girl who was allegedly on the plane and was found without a guardian has been circulating on social media

'As per the initial reports, rescue operations are on and passengers are being taken to hospital for medical care,' it said.

An emergency services official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP: 'Rescue operations are on but the rains are making it difficult.' 

Television pictures showed emergency services personnel working in the dark and spraying the wreckage with water.

Kerala has been battered by heavy rains in recent days. Monsoon season, which lasts from June to September, wreaks havoc across South Asia every year.

News18 reported that there was a problem with the aircraft's landing gear, citing unnamed sources.  

The last fatal plane crash in India was in 2010, when an Air India Express Boeing Co. plane overshot the runway and burst into flames, killing 158 people.

That was the first fatal crash of a passenger aircraft in India in a decade. 

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