The death toll from the crash of an Air India Express plane that overshot the runway in heavy rain near Kozhikode could have been higher had the pilot not switched off the engine in time, union minister V Muraleedharan, who visited the accident site on Saturday, said.
Speaking to News18, the MoS for external affairs said the fuel tank of the plane did not go up in flames because of the pilot’s actions, which saved a lot of lives. "The pilot switched off the engine and that could be the reason the plane did not catch fire," Muraleedharan said, adding that the heavy rain, too, could have helped in this regard.
The plane's pilot, Captain Deepak Sathe, was a retired Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and had served at the force's flight testing establishment. He as well as the co-pilot of the Air India Express flight died after the plane crashed at Kerala's Kozhikode airport on Friday.
At least 19 people have died in the crash, with over 100 more injured, but the death toll could have been much higher.
The minister’s assertion of the pilot saving lives comes even as DGCA chief Arun Kumar said it is too early to tell at this point whether the accident was a result of a technical error or human error.
Kumar said the table top runway at the Karipur airport was 8000 feet long, which is sufficient for a Boeing 737 to land. The aircraft landed 3000 feet from the beginning of the runway at the Kozhikode airport before breaking up into two pieces.
He said the decision to land the ill-fated flight — IX-1344 — beyond the normal touch down point was a “judgment call” by the pilot and this needs to be examined.
The Kozhikode airport in Kerala has a table-top runway and is operated by the Airports Authority of India (AAI). Generally, table-top runways are constructed on a hilly or an elevated terrain.
An AAI spokesperson said that runway 28 was in use and in the first landing attempt, the pilot could not sight the runway and requested for runway 10. Citing information from the Air Traffic Controller (ATC), the spokesperson said the aircraft touched down near taxiway 'C', which is approximately 3,000 feet from the beginning of runway 10.