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18 killed as COVID repatriation flight crash-lands in India

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An Air India Express plane with nearly 200 people on board has crash-landed during heavy rain in southern India’s Kerala state, killing at least 18 people and injuring nearly all of the survivors, local officials say. The two pilots are among those killed.

The accident happened at 7:40 p.m. on Friday when the aircraft, a Boeing 737, was attempting to land at Calicut International Airport after a 4-hour flight from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Visibility was said to be low due to heavy rain.

Footage from the scene showed that the Boeing 737 had broken into two pieces after it overshot the tabletop runway, hit a wall, and fell down a 35-feet gorge. “Very lucky the aircraft didn’t catch fire,” lawmaker K.J. Alphons said.

Captain Deepak Vasant Sathe, his co-pilot, and at least 16 passengers were killed in the crash, although some officials put the death toll higher, at nineteen. Nearly all of the survivors were taken to area hospitals, where 20 of them were said to be in serious or critical condition.

India’s External Affairs Ministry said Flight 1344 was part of the government’s repatriation mission to bring citizens back home during the coronavirus pandemic. There were 184 passengers on the plane, along with four cabin crew and the two pilots.

“[The plane] seems to have skidded off the runway and we must remember it’s a tabletop runway, so it seems to have crossed that runway and fallen into a ditch sort of, because there’s a differential between the runway and the other parts of the airport, and because of that impact there seems to have been a breaking of the fuselage into two,” said SN Pradhan, the Director General of the National Disaster Response Force. “The aircraft – the front portion – seems to have been very badly mangled and damaged.”

The cause of Friday’s accident was not immediately known.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all the passengers and crew and their families at this time of grief,” Air India Express said in a statement. “Two special relief flights have been arranged from Delhi and one from Mumbai for rendering humanitarian assistance to all the passengers and the family members.”

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