NEW DELHI • Indian investigators yesterday began examining the black box of the Boeing-737 that overshot a runway on its second attempt to land, killing 18 people in the country’s worst aviation accident in a decade.
The Air India Express plane was flying home Indians stranded in Dubai due to the coronavirus pandemic, and was caught in heavy rain. It overshot the runway of Calicut International Airport near the city of Kozhikode in the southern state of Kerala last Friday.
The aircraft, which had 190 passengers and crew aboard, plunged more than 10m down an embankment and broke in two.
In an interview with Reuters partner ANI yesterday, Mr Arun Kumar, head of India’s Directorate-General of Civil Aviation, said the country would open the recovered transcripts to international investigators, as well as the plane’s manufacturer, Boeing.
“Only after conducting a thorough and unbiased probe can we tell what exactly happened,” Mr Kumar said.
The 2,700m runway at the airport is known as a “table-top”, an aviation term for runways with steep drops at one or both ends.
They leave little room for error should a pilot overshoot the runway, either through human error or mechanical failure.
Late last Saturday, Mr Kumar told CNN-News18 in an interview that the pilot made an aborted landing attempt into a headwind and then made a second approach with a tailwind, landing 1,000m down the runway.
An air traffic control official familiar with the crash confirmed this version of events, adding that it is unusual to attempt a landing at the airport with a tailwind, which is typically used for take-offs.
“The length of the runway in Calicut is around 2,700m and the plane touched the ground after crossing 1,000m of the length, leaving less room to bring the aircraft to a halt,” the official, who declined to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media, told Reuters.
“It was windy and rainy and the runway surface was wet. In such instances the weather is dynamic,” he added.
The 2,700m runway at the airport is known as a “table-top”, an aviation term for runways with steep drops at one or both ends. They leave little room for error should a pilot overshoot the runway, either through human error or mechanical failure.
“An aircraft typically lands and departs in a headwind as a tailwind increases the plane’s speed.”
India’s civil aviation minister, however, has warned against speculation over the cause of the crash.
Minister Hardeep Singh Puri acknowledged that issues had been “routinely red flagged” by the civil aviation authority about the runway where the crash happened, but they had been addressed by the airport owner.
He added on Twitter: “I will encourage all to exercise patience and refrain from making speculative observations bordering on the irresponsible.”
Some 149 people are still in local hospitals after the crash.
Rescue officials said it was “a miracle” that fuel that leaked did not catch fire.
Kerala has been hit by deadly floods and landslides in recent days and heavy downpours had been falling for several hours at Kozhikode as the plane landed.
The plane repeatedly jumped up and down in buffeting winds before the landing, survivors told Indian television.
A spokesman for Air India did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The company has already said it will pay compensation to the families of the deceased.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE