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Air India Jet Skids Off Runway and Breaks Apart, Killing 16

(Bloomberg) — At least 16 people are dead after an Air India Express plane carrying 190 passengers and crew skidded off the runway and broke apart while attempting to land in southern India.

The Boeing Co. 737 operating as Flight 1344 from Dubai came to rest in a valley near a hilltop airport in Kozhikode, India. The plane touched down with a tail wind, according to archived data of the local weather Friday. The area surrounding the airport has been hit by torrential rains since Thursday, India’s weather office said.

“Unfortunately, 16 people have lost their lives,” Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said in a tweet. “I offer my heartfelt condolences to their next of kin & pray for speedy recovery of the injured.

Most passengers were workers returning home after losing their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, while some others were visitors who were stranded. India has banned scheduled international commercial service because of Covid-19 and only allowed repatriation flights with special permission from regulators.

Rescue personnel were on the scene and survivors were being taken to the hospital for treatment. No fire was reported at the time of landing.

“We regret that there has been an incident regarding our aircraft,” Air India Express said in a statement. Help centers were being set up in Sharjah and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Aviation regulators in the UAE had no immediate comment. Boeing said it had reached out to the airline to offer assistance.

“We are gathering more information, and closely monitoring the situation,” the Chicago-based planemaker said in a statement.

Table-Top Airport

The jetliner operated by Air India Ltd.’s overseas, low-cost unit overshot the runway at 7:41 p.m. local time, said India’s aviation ministry. According to a playback on flight-tracking website FlightRadar24, the plane tried to land in the opposite direction before circling the airport in the southern state of Kerala and making a second attempt.

The so-called table-top airport is located on a hill with limited space at the end of the runway, and several international airlines had stopped flying bigger aircraft including Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 jets into Kozhikode due to safety issues over its length.

The Hindu newspaper reported in 2018 that authorities ignored a proposal to install a system to stop planes from plunging off the edge.

The last fatal plane crash in India was in 2010, when an Air India Express Boeing plane overshot the runway at Mangalore — also a table top — and burst into flames, killing 158 people. That was the first fatal crash of a passenger aircraft in India in a decade.

Common Accidents

The plane involved in the accident was from the Next Generation version of Boeing’s workhorse 737 aircraft. That edition preceded the newer Max model, which has been grounded since March 2019 after two deadly crashes killed 346 people.

The 737 NG family of aircraft has one of the best safety records among jetliners, according to data compiled by Boeing. It had just eight fatal accidents in its history through 2018 out of more than 7,000 sold.

While not as deadly as some types of crashes, aircraft accidents during landing are among the most common, according to statistics compiled by Boeing.

Almost half of all fatal crashes from 2009 through 2018 occurred during final approach and landing, according to Boeing.

Such accidents have mostly occurred as a result of actions by pilots, such as touching down too far along a runway, approaching at higher speeds or failing to properly slow a plane, according to accident reports.

Weather can sometimes play a role, such as when runways are wet and braking is less effective. However, standard flight procedures are designed to take weather into account, so landings are only permitted when conditions are safe.

(Updates with minister’s comment in third paragraph.)

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