India Air crash survivor recounts final minutes in plane

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
The accident killed 18 people, including the two pilots

A survivor from last week's plane crash in the southern Indian state of Kerala has spoken to BBC Tamil about the dramatic moments leading up to the accident and what happened after.

"We heard the pilot through the speaker. He was saying ‘Calicut land,’ but his voice disconnected before he could finish the sentence. Two or three minutes later, we crashed.”

This is how Yuojin Yusuf recalls the night of 7 August. He was among 190 passengers aboard an Air India Express plane that skidded off the table-top runway at the Kozhikode (formerly Calicut) airport in bad weather. The aircraft broke in two pieces, killing 18 people, including the two pilots.

Mr Yusuf, who was seated at the back of the plane, sustained injuries, but survived.

“Thank god I’m safe and sound. I’m in home quarantine with small injuries on my lips and my hands. But I’m safe now,” he said.

The incident is India's worst passenger air crash in a decade. One official said it was a “miracle” the toll was not higher.

Mr Yusuf said that about 45 minutes before the plane was due to land, passengers started putting on their seat belts.

But 20 minutes later, the flight was still mid-air, going around in circles. “I thought maybe the bad weather meant the pilot couldn’t see the runway to land,” he said.

Image caption,
Yuojin Yusuf suffered minimal injuries

Kerala has been in the grips of a severe monsoon, which has wreaked havoc in some parts of the state. On the day of the crash, floods in the state's Munnar district triggered a massive landslide killing some 40 people. Dozens more are still missing, feared dead.

Everything happened very quickly as the plane descended, Mr Yusuf said. “It was moving very fast and it hit something and crashed,” he recalled, adding that he heard the screams and cries of others in the plane.

He didn’t know until later that the plane had essentially split in the middle due to the impact, breaking into two halves.

Mr Yusuf’s seat was located towards the back of the aircraft and he was spared any serious injury - those at the front were less fortunate.

“It took almost 20 minutes to exit the plane,” he said, adding that he has been under quarantine in his house since leaving the airport.

“My heartfelt condolences for family members who lost their beloved ones.”

What do we know about the crash?

Flight IX 1134 was carrying 184 passengers, including 10 infants, and six crew when it attempted to land at the airport in Kozhikode.

The Boeing 737 aircraft crashed at 19:40 local time (14:10 GMT) on Friday. Indian media said the pilots could not see the runway during a first attempt at landing due to heavy rain.

When they did touch down, the plane is said to have landed 1,000 metres beyond the threshold of the runway before skidding off and sliding into a ditch.

The impact broke the plane in two. Images from the scene showed the fuselage shredded, with the blue seats from the jet scattered along the ground.

Kozhikode has a table-top airport, a challenge for air crew during difficult landings as they typically have steep drops at one or both ends of the runway.

Investigators have also found the so-called "black boxes" of the plane.

India's Aviation Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, visited the scene of the crash on Saturday, where he announced the recovery of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, which could prove crucial to investigating the crash.

He praised the lead pilot and said it was too early to say what the precise cause of the accident was.

"We have to be grateful that the casualties are only this much," he added.

"The aircraft fell 35 feet [10 metres] down and rescue people were able to reach there immediately, cut the body of the plane and retrieve people trapped inside."

Media caption,
Aftermath of the Kerala plane crash shows the plane broken in two