Eight survive plane crash in south India, 158 dead

TN News

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An Air India Express passenger plane from Dubai crashed outside an airport in southern India on Saturday, killing 158 people when it burst into flames after overshooting a table-top runway and plunging into forest below.

There were only eight survivors after the Boeing 737-800, with 166 people on board including crew, appeared to have skidded off the runway in rain at Mangalore airport in Karnataka state, Air India director Anup Srivastava said.

He said 116 bodies had been recovered.

"We had no hope to survive, but we survived," Pradeep, a survivor who is an Indian technician working in Dubai, told local television.

"The plane broke into two and we jumped off the plane. As soon as the plane landed, within seconds this happened."

Local television showed a fireman carrying what seemed to be the remains of a child from the smoking wreckage. Charred bodies lay in the forested terrain.

All the passengers were Indian nationals, an Air India official in Dubai said. Many were likely Indian migrant workers in Dubai. The pilot was Serbian and said to be very experienced.

Air India Express is the budget arm of the loss making state-run carrier Air India, which has been fending off growing competition from private airlines.

The flight's black box has been recovered, the United Arab Emirates' state news agency, WAM, said.

Indications are that the crash was an accident, Indian officials said. One TV report said the plane hit a radar pole on landing.

"There was no distress indication from the pilot. That means between the pilot and the airport communication there was no indication of any problem," V.P. Agarwal, director of Airports Authority of India told local television.

Television channels said the plane crashed around 6:30 a.m. (9 p.m. ET on Friday). TV images showed it struck a forested area. Flames were seen blazing from the wreckage as rescue workers fought to bring the fire under control.

"While landing at the airport, the plane deviated and hit something," said Krishna, another survivor. "It caught fire and we fell out. We looked up and saw some opening and came out through that route."

Boom industry

It was India's first major crash in a decade, which has seen a boom in private carriers amid growing demand from India's middle class.

A series of near misses at major airports, including Delhi and Mumbai, have sparked debate about how India's creaking infrastructure was failing to keep pace with an economic boom.

Indian Law Minister Veerappa Moily told CNN-IBN TV that he had opened a new runway at Mangalore airport just 10 days ago. The Air India plane was two years old.

Boeing said in a statement it was sending a team to provide technical assistance to the crash investigation.

The last major crash in India was in July, 2000, when an Alliance Air Boeing 737-200 crashed into a residential area during a second landing attempt in the eastern city of Patna, killing at least 50 people.

With growing competition from private carriers, the Indian government agreed to infuse $1.1 billion into loss-making Air India if the ailing state-run carrier found the same amount in cost cuts and extra revenue.

The airline lost $875 million in the fiscal year ended March 2009.

Hundreds of Air India pilots went on strike in September 2009 to protest management plans to cut pay incentives. The strike was called off when aviation minister Praful Patel said the grievances would be dealt with.

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