What Really Happened to Air India Express Flight IX 1134?

Air India Express Flight IX 1134 crashed in the Southern Indian State of Kerala on the 7th of August at 19:40 (local time). Of the 190 people onboard, nearly 150 were injured and 18 have been confirmed dead, marking the accident India’s worst passenger air crash in a decade. 

But how and why did this devastating plane crash happen and can future incidents be prevented?

The Boeing 737 was an incoming craft from Dubai, carrying mainly Indian nationals who were finally able to return home with the lifting of lockdown restrictions. The aeroplane was inbound for Kozhikode (formerly Calicut) airport; an airport which only has 10 flights landing a day.

Onboard were 4 flight attendants, the pilot and the co-pilot: Deepak V. Sathe and Akhilesh Kumar respectively. Both pilots, along with 16 other passengers, were among those who have been confirmed dead after the crash.

So far, the information regarding the flight itself and the path it took on the 7th is as follows. Conditions on the day were difficult. Visibility from the air was at around 2,000 metres, and thus falling below the 5,000 metres standard when flying. Moreover, it was raining with heavy tailwinds present on the day and since Kerala is experiencing its monsoon season, the runway was slicker than usual. The crash happened on the same day as a landslide, caused by the severe monsoon, which killed around 40 people in Kerala’s Munnar district. 

The information gathered from the recovery of the plane’s ‘black boxes’ (an electronic recording device also known as a flight recorded) reveals that the pilots attempted to land but failed. They then circled the airport a few times before coming in to land. 

The touchdown marker, or where the plane should initially make contact with the ground in order to complete a safe landing, is around 300 metres into the 2,860 metre landing strip. However, the aircraft came down around half way in, at about 1,500 metres, leaving very little distance for the craft to slow down and come to a safe stop. Kerala’s bad weather and the airport’s table-top runway, exacerbated the plane’s landing further. The aeroplane skidded for over 75 metres before overshooting the runway and plummeting a further 10 metres. 

As for the impact of the crash; its landing split the plane into two. However, India’s Civil Aviation Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri stated that it was a “miracle” that so few had perished since fuel had been leaking from the craft and fires had begun. If the plane had caught alight, the aftermath would have been far more disastrous. 

As India grieves this tragic loss of life, Air India Express, is set to carry out a compensation scheme (of just a shade over £10,200 or $13,350 per person) for the survivors and the families of the deceased. They are currently providing free treatment, medical and otherwise, for all those directly and indirectly affected. 

However, this accident is not India’s first plane crash in recent history. In 2010, Air India Express Flight 812 crashed on landing at Mangalore, resulting in the fatalities of almost all its passengers. A recurring issue in both crashes is their attempted landing on table-top runways. For now, questions have turned to whether this current tragedy could have been prevented and if so, why have no measures been put in place. In the last 10 years, there have been at least two recommendations made requesting the installation of a safety system on these runways but authorities failed to take heed of these warnings. 

There are a further 5 table-top runways across India and the danger that they can present in poor conditions is clear. Prevention of further accidents is now the Government’s priority as the country’s civil aviation regulator, (Directorate General of Civil Aviation), is looking to review other such runways and airports especially affected by hazardous weather. The implementation of safeguards are vital to make table-top runways across India safe.

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Source: The Conversation, 2020

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