Aviation Regulator Chief Suggests Pilot Error in Air India Crash

(Bloomberg News/TNS) -
First responders inspect the wreckage of an Air India Express jet after it crashed by overshooting the runway at Calicut International Airport in Karipur, India, on August 7, 2020. (Favas Jalla/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

The Air India Express jet that overshot the runway on Friday, killing at least 18 people, had touched down too far down the airstrip, the chief of India’s aviation regulator said amid ongoing investigations.

Arun Kumar, director general for civil aviation, told CNN News-18 on Saturday that the plane landed about 3,000 feet into a 9,000 feet-long runway, causing it to breach a further 787 feet safety area at high speed and crash into a valley beyond.

“Looks like,” Kumar said when asked by the TV channel if the incident seemed to be the result of bad judgment. “They should have landed before 1,000 feet, but they have landed more than 3,000 or so, exact numbers will come out from the flight data recorder.”

The crash — the deadliest aviation accident in India in a decade — took place on a so-called table top runway, built on a hill. Indian authorities ignored at least two recommendations in the past decade to install a safety system on such airstrips.

A Boeing Co. 737 operating as Flight 1344 from Dubai skidded off the runway after touching down with a tail wind and broke apart while attempting to land at about 7:41 p.m. local time on Friday, killing at least 18 and injuring more than 100, some of them in critical condition.

The area — Kozhikode in the southern state of Kerala — had been receiving torrential rain. The pilots first tried to land from one side of the runway and then sought permission to try the opposite end.

“At 7:37 p.m. they were given clearance to land from the other side,” Kumar said. “Unfortunately they did land but they probably did not land the way they should have landed.”

The nose was crushed and most casualties are reported from the front of the plane, including the pilot and co-pilot, Kumar said. The tail also broke apart. The probe team reached the site at 5 a.m. on Saturday and the black boxes were found that afternoon.

“They have already recovered the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder,” Kumar said. “So they have to examine the conversation between the pilot and co-pilot to ascertain as to what actually transpired in the aircraft in those last 10 eventful minutes.”