NEW DELHI – A plane carrying nearly 200 people skidded off a runway in a heavy downpour and broke into pieces in southern India on Friday, killing 17.
The Air India Express flight was part of a massive airlift organized by the Indian government to bring home stranded and distressed citizens during the coronavirus pandemic.
The plane departed from Dubai and landed in the city of Kozhikode in the state of Kerala on Friday evening. Television channels broadcast images from the scene showing jagged pieces of the aircraft’s fuselage surrounded by emergency personnel.
The plane “overshot the runway in rainy conditions” with 190 people on board, then careened down a 35-foot slope, said Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s aviation minister. At least 17 were killed, said K. Gopalakrishnan, a senior district official.
Kozhikode, a city formerly known as Calicut, has a “tabletop” airport on a plateau that drops sharply on the sides. An eyewitness said the plane broke in half when it went over the edge.
Airport employees rushed to help. Shaharbas K, a technician, said the nose of the plane suffered the most damage. He and others cut open the door to the cockpit and also pulled a young girl, her head bleeding, from the plane.
Mohammed Ali, 36, was traveling home on the flight with three friends. All had lost their jobs during the pandemic. The plane made a first attempt to land before trying again, he said. Then he remembers being suddenly and violently flung from the aircraft. He was seated near the emergency exit and survived with a minor injury to his leg.
An estimated 2 million people from Kerala work in Persian Gulf nations such as the United Arab Emirates. Many have lost their jobs in recent months as economies have staggered under efforts to control coronavirus infections.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet that he was “pained” by the accident and that authorities were providing all possible assistance to those affected.
Weather authorities had issued an alert warning that extremely heavy rainfall was likely in the Kozhikode area Friday.
Earlier in the day, a landslide in a different part of Kerala killed 15 people, also the result of torrential rain.
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