Investigators today sifted through the charred wreckage of the Boeing 737 plane of Air India’s budget carrier for the cockpit voice and the flight data recorder -- the black box -- that could give vital clues for the cause of the crash. One hundred and fifty-eight people were killed in the disaster.

A senior Airport Authority of India official meanwhile said an “incorrect” flight path could have caused the crash of the Air India Express aircraft from Dubai at Bajpe airport here on Saturday.

The official, who visited the crash site, told PTI, “An incorrect flight path could have been a possible reason (for yesterday’s mishap).”

The probe by a big team of experts including from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) into the crash resumed at the crack of dawn with the wreckage area cordoned off, as grieving relatives collected the victims’ remains in the worst air disaster in India in 14 years. Eight passengers miraculously survived.

According to unconfirmed reports, the throttle in the cockpit was retrieved by investigations and was found in a forward position suggesting that the pilot may have attempted a final thrust before the crash.

The Boeing 737-800 with a British national of Serbian origin in command overshot the ‘table-top’ runway and plunged into a ravine and burst into flames. There were 166 passengers and crew on board. Several victims were from Kasaragod and Kannur districts of neighbouring Kerala.

Mechanical metal cutters

Investigators used mechanical metal-cutters to search for the Black Box in the twisted wreckage of the barely three-year-old plane’s remains. Heavy machinery was also being used to clear the debris scattered over a wide area.

Despite rescue teams being at the spot along with fire fighters and police personnel, they are to recover the black box nearly 30 hours after the crash. The Black Box has crucial last-minute recordings of conversation between the cockpit crew and the Air Traffic Control (ATC).

All 158 bodies have been recovered but only 72 have been identified and handed over to relatives, Air India spokesperson Harpreet Singh De said in Mumbai.

Karnataka DGP Ajai Kumar Singh said at the crash site that bodies of 104 victims of the crash have been identified and handed over to relatives.

Forensic scientists were carrying out DNA tests on the remaining bodies to identify them.

Dozens of grieving relatives arrived here on a special Air India flight from Dubai, Karnataka and Kerala to take back home the bodies of their loved ones.

DNA test

A team of experts arrived here this morning from Hyderabad to conduct DNA test to help in the identification of bodies charred beyond recognition.

At the hospitals, relatives of the victims were seen trying hard to identify their loved ones with their faces covered with masks.

Saturday’s disaster was the country’s deadliest crash since 1996 when two passenger planes collided in mid-air near New Delhi with the loss of all 349 on board both flights.

The last major plane crash in India was in 2000, when 61 people were killed after a passenger jet plunged into a residential area near Patna.

U.S.-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing said it was sending a team of investigators to India to help in the inquiry.

Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel had said the aircraft did not contain itself within the limited space on touchdown and overshot the spillover area on the runway.

He had also stated that the runway was operationally compliant and technically fit for operating an aircraft of Boeing 737-800 series and the plane was just two-and-a-half years old with no history of defects or malfunctioning.

Relief package

The Government is soon expected to announce the first tranche of a compensation package to the family members of the passengers killed in the Air India plane crash in Mangalore.

The government is likely to be working on announcing an immediate package of Rs.10 lakh, even as concerned officials were in discussions with various agencies to study the Aircraft Act and the Montreal Convention regarding the compensation package, sources said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced Rs. 2 lakh compensation to each crash victim’s family while Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel has said the airlines will give up to USD 1,60,000 (about Rs. 72 lakh) to the family members of each victim as per the provisions of the Carriage by Air (Amendment) Act.

Under this Act, which has been amended as per The Montreal Convention, kin of each victim is entitled for up to one lakh special drawing rights (SDR) which as per the present exchange rates is worth about $ 1,60,000 (Rs. 72 lakh).

Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa has also announced Rs. 2 lakh compensation to each of the families of the 158 people killed in Saturday’s crash.

Meanwhile, sources said the Government has also asked the local police to expedite the post-mortem and hand over the bodies to the relatives quickly. So far, 150 bodies have been identified.