Mangaluru, Aug 08, 2020: Last evening, an Air India Express repatriation flight met with a terrible tragedy while landing at Kerala’s Kozhikode Airport, killing at least 18 people, including both pilots.
Though the exact reason is still unknown, heavy rains and a table-top runway are being blamed.
Moreover, the incident’s eerie similarities with Mangaluru’s 2010 crash also indicate that the aforementioned factors triggered the accident.
Looking back: But first, let’s recall what happened in Mangaluru years ago
In May 2010, an Air India Express flight, that left Dubai, crashed during landing and went up in flames, killing 158 people. Only eight people survived the accident, dubbed as the worst disaster of India’s aviation history.
The aircraft was being flown by seasoned pilots — Z Glucia, who had over 10,000 hours of flying experience and SS Ahluwalia, whose experience was over 3,000 hours.
Runway: The runway was inundated with rains, landing was risky
Back then, reports said the pilots, who had landed at the same airport dozens of times, didn’t report any malfunctioning during the course of the journey.
But heavy rains made landing at the already risky table-top runway disastrous. Atop a hill, the runway was surrounded by deep gorges.
Those who survived to tell the tale had apparently jumped out of the burning aircraft.
Condition: Like Mangaluru, Kozhikode Airport has table-top runway
Just like Mangaluru aircraft, the one which was supposed to land in Kozhikode was faced with a table-top runway.
These runways are built by chopping off hilltops and have no margin for overshooting, hence, acute precision is needed.
Notably, there are five table-top runways in India — at Mizoram’s Lengpui Airport, Sikkim’s Pakyong Airport, Kozhikode International Airport, and at airports in Simla and Kullu.
Details: Aircraft tried landing twice, circled around airport; accident happened nevertheless
The runway where the accident happened is 2,860 meter-long, a little more than what the Mangaluru flight got. However, the incessant downpour affected visibility, eventually leading the flight to nosedive into a steep gorge.
The only respite was that the aircraft didn’t catch fire.
Reports said the aircraft attempted landing twice and circled the airport multiple times before touchdown.
Statement: Surprisingly, experts had declared the airport "unfit for landing"
In fact, a top expert had commented that Kozhikode Airport is not safe for landing.
Air Safety Expert Captain Mohan Ranganathan said in a nine-year-old report that landings shouldn’t be allowed there.
"The runway has a steep downslope, no safety area. They were warned nine years back and given proof but they continued to operate and declared the airport safe," he told NDTV.
Warning: Expert had warned about a mishap in 2011 itself
Speaking to TOI, Captain Ranganathan said he had given a fair warning in 2011 itself, after the Mangaluru incident.
According to him, there should have been at least 240 meter of a buffer zone.
In his report, he opined that "approach must not be allowed on Runway 10 in view of the lack of runway end safety area (RESA)." But, his concerns remained unaddressed.
Fact: A disaster in making?
"There are 200-feet deep gorges on both sides of the tarmac. It is a very steep downslope. Airlines have been operating blindly there. If there are casualties, then it is murder, a criminal offense," he went on.