Rise to 16 death toll in Air India Express plane crash

India's Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri said in a statement that the flight “crossed the runway, wet with rain, and went down” the slope, breaking into two parts after the impact.

Indian authorities have raised the death toll in the Air India Express plane crash to 16 after it landed in the middle of torrential rain at an airport in southern India.

In addition to the 16 dead, 123 are still wounded, 15 of them in critical condition at the time the rescue operations were closed.

The plane, a Boeing 737 from Air India Express, a subsidiary of Air India, from Dubai, with 191 people on board, left the runway and split in two when landing at Kozhikode Airport, in the state of Kerala (south from India).

The causes of the accident are not known, but a local television network pointed out a problem with the landing gear. Nothing, however, has been officially confirmed.

A similar tragedy to today was narrowly averted, at the same airport, a year ago, when an Air India Express flight suffered a blow to the tail, also when landing, with none of the 180 passengers suffering any injuries at that time.

The 2.850-meter runway is at the top of a flat hill with deep gorges on either side ending on a 34-meter slope.

India's Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri said in a statement that the flight “crossed the runway, wet with rain, and went down” the slope, breaking into two parts after the impact.

An investigation will be conducted by the Ministry's Aircraft Accident Investigation Office, Puri said.

The security area at the end of the airport runway was expanded in 2018 to accommodate large aircraft.

The safety area at the end of the runway meets the requirements of the United Nations International Civil Aviation Agency, but this UN department recommends a safety area ('buffer') that is 150 meters longer than that at the airport in Kozhikode, according to Harro Ranter, chief executive of the Aviation Safety Network database.

Dubai aviation consultant Mark Martin explained that, although it is too early to determine the cause of the accident, annual monsoon conditions appear to be a relevant factor in understanding what has happened.

"Low visibility, wet track, low cloud base, all lead to very difficult braking action, which may have caused this accident," said Martin.

The Air India Express flight was part of the Indian Government's special repatriation mission to bring citizens back to the country because of the covi-19 pandemic, officials said.

All passengers were returning from the Gulf region, officials said, with 174 adult passengers, 10 babies, two pilots and four cabin crew on board.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote in his personal Twitter account that he was "saddened by the plane crash in Kozhikode" and that he had spoken to local authorities.

The worst air disaster in India occurred on November 12, 1996, when a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight collided in the air with a Kazakhastan Airlines flight, near Charki Dadri, in the state of Haryana, killing all 349 people aboard the two planes.

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