Kozhikode plane crash | Pilots gave Calicut ATC no hint of danger

Air India Express officials covering the wreckage of the B-737 flight at Calicut International Airport.

Air India Express officials covering the wreckage of the B-737 flight at Calicut International Airport.   | Photo Credit: Sakeer Hussain

The final conversation between the air traffic controller (ATCO) and one of the pilots of the Air India Express flight 1344 that crashed last week in Kozhikode did not indicate any sign of danger, according to a senior official of the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

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“The last words were a regular transmission, one that a pilot has during a normal runway approach,” the government source told The Hindu on condition of anonymity.

ATCOs can’t distinguish whether the voice from the cockpit is of the pilot-in-command or the junior pilot.

“The ATCO established Instrument Landing System (guided landing during low visibility). Following which the pilot sought landing clearance, which was provided. After this, visibility, surface and wind speed conditions were provided to the pilot, which were all acknowledged by him,” the official explained.

Also read: Kozhikode plane crash | Hours later, survivors recall moments of shock and panic

There was no hint of either stress or doubt in the pilot’s voice, which ATCOs can often detect.

Seconds later, however, the aircraft overshot the runway, broke into three parts leading to the death of 19 persons on board, including the two pilots — Captain Deepak Vasant Sathe and co-pilot Akhilesh Kumar. The Air India Express flight was repatriating Indians from Dubai under the Vande Bharat Mission.


The last words from the cockpit are an important preliminary evidence, but in the case of Friday’s crash, this has proven to be a yet another puzzle investigators will be trying to analyse.

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Speaking to The Hindu, the chief investigator of the crash also expressed his surprise at the limited number of casualties.

“The death toll of 18 is tragic. But considering the massive damage to the aircraft, which broke into three pieces, it is surprising that we did not see higher casualties,” Group Captain Aurobindo Handa of the Director General of Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau, told The Hindu.

Asked what possible reasons kept the number of casualties low, the IAF officer replied, “Providence; but also the manner in which all the local residents rushed to rescue and retrieve injured passengers from inside the plane. The fire personnel of the airport too played a major role, and immediately cut parts of the aircraft to pull out passengers. Everyone reached the site within minutes and this was 200% responsible for restricting the number of casualties.”

Also read: Air India plane crash | Kerala govt announces ₹10 lakh compensation

Group Captain Handa had accompanied Minister of State for Civil Aviation Hardeep Puri to the accident site on Saturday and has the “black boxes” in his custody.

“It will be ensured that the investigation is fair, transparent and gainful,” he added.

Attempting to stave off criticism on the safety of Calicut International Airport, Mr. Puri tweeted that the airport does not need any equipment used to arrest the speed of aircraft.

“Kozhikode airport is equipped with RESA [runway end safety area] as per ICAO guidelines. Engineered Material Arrestor System (EMAS) provides safety benefit if less than standard RESA length is available or at airports where RESA cannot be provided due to constraints,” Mr. Puri tweeted.

He added that the AAI had examined the suggestion from a safety committee to deploy EMAS, but decided to increase the safety area at the end of the runway instead.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 8:42:11 PM |

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