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Air India Jet Skids Off Runway, Breaks Apart; At Least 15 Dead

(Bloomberg) — At least 15 people are dead after an Air India Express plane carrying 191 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 airport’s weather. The area surrounding the airport has been hit by torrential rains since Thursday, India’s weather office said.

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.

Table-Top Airport

The plane operated by Air India Ltd.’s overseas, low-cost unit overshot the runway at 7:41 p.m. local time. According to a playback on flight-tracking website FlightRadar24, the plane circled the airport in the southern state of Kerala several times before attempting to land.

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 the length on the runway.

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

While not as deadly as some types of crashes, 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.

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