An Air India Express plane from Dubai overshot the table-top runway at the Mangalore airport on Saturday morning and plunged over a cliff into a wooded valley, killing 158 persons.

There were 160 passengers and six crew members on board Flight IX-812. The passengers included 137 adults, 19 children and 4 infants. Eight passengers survived miraculously.

The plane burst into flames after the crash, which occurred at 6.10 a.m. The captain of the flight, Z. Glusica, a British national of Serbian origin, and his co-pilot H.S. Ahluwalia are among the dead. Nine passengers did not board the flight, according to the manifest.

Mohammad Usman, a survivor, who was in seat no. 19 said: “I heard a horrible sound when the plane landed. Within a few seconds it caught fire and the flames spread inside. I crawled out from a crack near the left wing. I removed my seat belt in time and saved myself.”

Another survivor, Joel Prathap D'Souza, astounded airport officials when he turned up at the arrival wing for immigration formalities.

Fire tenders had a tough time reaching the inaccessible crash site. Residents of the nearby Kenjar village rose to the occasion, throwing themselves selflessly into the rescue work, carrying bodies out of the burning wreckage. Police said all 158 bodies were recovered by evening.

Reasons unclear

The reasons for the crash are as yet unclear. Minister of State for Civil Aviation Praful Patel said an enquiry by the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had been ordered.

The pilot did not report any problem or deficiency either during the course of the flight or on its final stretch. The weather was relatively normal with a visibility of six kilometres, calm winds and no rain. The runway was dry, Mr. Patel said.

Captain Glusica had 10,200 hours of flying experience, out of which 7,630 were as pilot-in-command. He was familiar with the airport and had made 19 landings there, last touching down at the Mangalore airport in November 2009. Co-pilot Ahluwalia, based in Mangalore, had 3,650 hours of flying experience, and he too was familiar with the airfield.

Heart-rending scenes

The scene at the Government Wenlock Hospital, where most of the bodies of the victims were brought, was one of untold grief. Relatives and friends had to perform the terrible task of identifying their loved ones from among bodies charred beyond recognition.

Said Vasanthi Shetty of B.C. Road, Mangalore: “I identified my sister Rama Satish by her gold ornaments.”

Flight operations remained suspended till 2 p.m. Hundreds of passengers going to Abu Dhabi, Kolkata and New Delhi were stranded for several hours.

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