Kerala plane crash: 'There was a huge flash of light and a big thud,' say eyewitnesses

Updated: 11 August, 2020 10:27 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Two CISF eyewitnesses from Kozhikode airport narrate how AI plane crashed right in front of them, barely 10 metres from their watch tower

The wreckage of the plane wrapped in sheets is seen near a CISF post at the Kozhikode airport
The wreckage of the plane wrapped in sheets is seen near a CISF post at the Kozhikode airport

I have served in the CISF for 37 years, and had never seen such a plane crash before. I thought it would crash right on our post, but it landed a few metres away," said ASI Mangal Singh, who was manning the watch tower. He along with his colleague ASI Ajit Singh saw the Air India Express plane splitting into two on Friday night.

Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) assistant sub inspectors Mangal and Ajit, with walkie-talkie in their hands, rushed out of the post and told the control room that an Air India plane had skidded off the runway and crashed.

"We initially thought the plane was going to crash on our post, but we were saved by less than 10 meters. The plane cockpit hit the periphery wall, and the plane split into three pieces," recalled ASI Mangal, 56. ASI Ajit, 36, had just arrived at the CISF post near gate no. 8 for his patrol duty.

Had never seen such a crash
CISF Deputy Commandant Kishore Kumar was just about to enter his house when his orderly heard the walkie-talkie message and alerted him. He then rushed to the crash site.

Ajit Singh, assistant sub inspector, CISF
Ajit Singh, assistant sub inspector, CISF

Mangal, who hails from Uttarakhand, told mid-day, "I have served in the CISF for 37 years, and this was the first time I had seen such a plane crash. I manned the main gate, and the locals who wanted to help in the rescue operation sought the CISF permission rushed to the spot."

'People were thrown out'
"When the wing broke, the impact was so strong that the passengers sitting close to the damaged portion were thrown out of the plane. I had never seen anything like this before," said Mangal.

ASI Mangal Singh

ASI Mangal Singh

Ajit, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, said, "The Calicut airport has a tabletop runway and the entire periphery of the airport is at the ground level, from where the runway is not visible. And from our post, we can only see the planes take off." "I was about to go for patrolling when we spotted the plane. It seemed the plane was attempting to take off and it flew over us, but suddenly, it crash-landed a few meters away from the post."

Kids were stuck
Ajit said he was the first to enter the crashed plane. "The cockpit was badly damaged, and I could see the front seats were completely crushed. Children and an elderly woman were stuck between the seats, some passengers' legs were trapped. The entire overhead cabin had fallen and people were buried under it."

Ajit said he soon realised that the aviation fuel was leaking and that he did not have much time. "Even though several air passengers arriving at the airport had tested positive, the thought that those in the crashed plane could have COVID-19 did not cross my mind. I only had one thing in mind, and that was to save as many lives as possible."

Wreckage of the crashed planeWreckage of the crashed plane

Fuel was leaking
Deputy Commandant Kumar said he arrived at the airport within eight minutes and he could smell the leaking fuel. "In my career of 17 years, I have never seen a plane accident. The aviation fuel had covered a good area on the site, and any ignition or spark would have led to a major disaster. But, by the grace of the almighty, the rain was very heavy. I immediately rushed to an ambulance parked nearby and using the public address system, I alerted the passengers and the people engaged in rescue to not use their mobile phones as any spark could prove to be fatal."

Major tragedy averted
Soon, the fire brigade personnel arrived and sprayed foam, and a major disaster was averted, he added. Kumar pointed out that the CISF had conducted a mock drill for rescue in case of an airline emergency at the same spot in 2019.

Gate no. 8 is always locked and is supposed to be used in emergency situations only. And just a few meters away, around 120 bachelor CISF personnel have their barracks and they, too, rushed to the spot immediately.

"Luckily, a 407 tempo, which is used for transporting cooked foods for the bachelors, was parked near the air traffic control gate. This tempo came handy for transporting most of the injured passengers to the nearest hospitals," said Kumar.

CISF Director General Rajesh Ranjan appreciated the prompt and outstanding efforts of the three officers in saving so many lives, and announced that they will be awarded with DG's commendation DISC.

ASI Mangal Singh

Deputy Commandant Kishore Kumar

Kumar said a list is being made for other CISF personnel who were involved in the rescue operation that night, and their contribution will also be recognised. "The team from the Air Accident Investigation Bureau, DGCA, is stationed at the airport and have visited the accident site to get maximum clues."

A disheartening experience
"It was a disheartening experience. This was not a regular plane. It was carrying those who were in distress, had lost their jobs, had no income, and worried about their future, because of the pandemic," Kumar said.Recalling the sight of the accident, he said, "The entire area was full of handsets, laptops, toys, household items, baggages, clothes and shoes, and even gold ornaments were found on the spot."

Many came to help
Kumar said it was the energy of all the people who had come forward to help, and his colleagues, who reached out to every trapped person, that made him believe in mankind and "the presence of divine forces, which a major calamity was avoided and hundreds of lives could be saved." "We are now making the stock lists, and the biggest challenge will be to segregate all the belongings. As and when the passengers get discharged from hospital, we will call them to the airport so that they can identify their belongings which will then be handed over to them in the presence of police and after following all the norms."

As many as 18 people were killed and 101 others were injured when the Air India flight from Dubai crashed on Friday.

18
No. of people killed in the crash in Kozhikode

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First Published: 11 August, 2020 08:07 IST

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