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Updated: May 23, 2010 03:32 IST

"Air India flight did not report any problem"

Sudipo Mondal
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Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel interacts with a survivor of the plane crash at a local hospital in Mangalore on Saturday.
PTI Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel interacts with a survivor of the plane crash at a local hospital in Mangalore on Saturday.

The Air India IX 812 flight from Dubai that crashed at Mangalore airport on Saturday morning was a “normal flight and did not report any problem or deficiency either during the flight course or in its final stretch” said Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel at a press conference at Mangalore airport on Saturday afternoon.

The aircraft was following the ILS (Instrument Landing System) approach for landing on the runway, and the pilot had reported to the ATC that it had established itself on the ILS approach at about 10 miles from touchdown, said Mr Patel. Runway 24 is 2450 metres long and has a safety/spillover area of 90 metres of sand designed to arrest the speed of an aircraft. Mr. Patel said the aircraft was two and a half years old and there were no reports of malfunction or defect so far.

Weather normal

The weather was “relatively normal with a visibility of six kilometres, calm winds and no rain. The runway was dry,” he added. The Captain Z. Glusica had 10,200 hours of experience out of which 7630 hours was as pilot-in-command and he had 2770 hours of flying on a Boeing 737. He last flew out of Mangalore airport in November 2009. The pilot was familiar with the airport and had made 19 landings there. The co-pilot H.S. Ahluwalia, was based in Mangalore, had 3650 hours of flying experience and 3350 hours on a Boeing 737 aircraft, and he too was very familiar with the Mangalore airfield.

Retracing the course of the events that led to the crash, Mr. Patel said that the pilot overshot the runway, braked hard, but could not stop the aircraft. The right wing of the aircraft crashed against a localiser (a landing aide in the form of a concrete structure about 50 feet high). The aircraft then plummeted into the valley.

Reasons for the crash

Mr. Patel said that it was too early to establish the reason for the crash. However, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation has ordered an enquiry headed by its Executive Director (Operations). The team will piece together the circumstances that led to the crash and will assist the DGCA. “India has a long unblemished record in civil aviation and we are deeply shocked and pained by the crash,” Mr. Patel said. “Five survivors have said that the pilot braked hard and the plane shook violently. Beyond the spillover area is a vertical drop into a thickly wooded area.” According to him, the runway is long enough for a 737-800 Boeing to land.

He dismissed suggestions that the pilot was fatigued, adding that he had seven hours of flying with a break in between.

As for the possibility of the malfunction of the ILS, he said that all other functions of the aircraft “appear to be normal.” Allaying concerns about the quality of the runway, he said it was made operational in 2006 and was made of cement and concrete with sufficient friction quotient.

Black Box recovery

The chances of recovery of the black box is high because the debris is concentrated in a small area, Mr. Patel said.

Passengers

Mr. Patel said that the entire wreckage had been found, and 125 charred bodies recovered at the time of the press conference at 3 pm. Most bodies should be recovered by late evening, he said. The bodies had been charred badly and so it will take time for health officials to identify them and hand them over to the kith and kin.

Of the 160 passengers, 137 were adults, 19 children and 4 infants. There were six crew members on board

According to the Montreal Convention to which India is a signatory, $ 160,000 is the compensation recommended as compensation to the family of an air crash victim. The injured will be treated at the state's expense and compensation will be commensurate to the extent of injury.

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