Indian commercial pilots’ association has issued a press statement on Saturday stressing on the need to avoid speculation and theories around the crash of Air India Express flight AXB1344 , which broke into two after dropping around 35 ft into a valley after overshooting the runway in wet conditions while landing at the Karipur international airport in Kozhikode, Kerala on Friday night, killing 18 people and critically injuring scores of others.
Since the mishap, questions have been raised on the quality of the airport strip, the dangers of landing at a tabletop airport, DGCA’s handling of issues flagged time to time and any possible errors made by the pilots, both of whom have perished in the accident.
“We stress on the need to avoid speculation and theories as to the circumstances of this accident. We are also willing to offer any assistance to the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau in order to help gather facts and any other safety and security information which may be pertinent to this tragic event,” the statement from the association said.
Civil aviation minister was more direct in his rejection of speculations about the cause of the accident and ruled out any laxity on the part of the aviation authorities. He also addressed the issue of the air strip being inadequate for landing of wide body aircrafts.
“I would like to remind my colleagues that the aircraft involved in the incident at Kozhikode was a B-737-800 which is NOT a wide body aircraft. As far as wide body aircraft are concerned, DGCA had carried out a thorough assessment & prescribed comprehensive mitigation measures,” he said in a statement on Saturday.
The flight was operated by Deepak Sathe, a highly rated former India Air Force pilot and his co-pilot from Mathura, Akhilesh Sharma. Sharma’s wife Megha is expecting a child within a fortnight and has not been told about her husband’s death.
Civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri earlier today said that the pilots operating the Air India Express flight were very experienced. Deepak Vasant Sathe, who was the commander of the flight, had 10,000 hours of flying experience on the Boeing 737 aircraft. He had flown 6,662 of these hours as the commander. His 32 year old co-pilot, Akhilesh Sharma, had experience of 1,728 hours of flying with the 737 aircraft.
Puri added that Sathe had also landed successfully on the challenging tabletop Calicut airport at least 27 times, including more than 10 times this year itself.
The civil aviation ministry has ordered a probe by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB). Two black boxes containing the digital flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder have been recovered from the crash site earlier today and will be crucial to the investigations.
The AAIB is mandated to investigate aircraft accidents and obtain a preliminary report before assisting in setting up the committee of inquiry and formal investigation in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) rules.
The spaces at the ends of the runway at the Kozhikode airport has been questioned as inadequate for landing in tough situations. Several international airlines had stopped landing bigger aircraft at the airport due to safety concerns.
The crashed flight had also aborted two landing attempts last night before making the final attempt from the opposite side. It aborted the second attempt with 2,000 feet to go.
Civil aviation expert Captain Mohan Ranganathan believes that the pilot should have diverted to Coimbatore, as the conditions in Kozhikode were not conducive for a landing. Ranganathan says that he had warned the authorities in 2011 after the Mangalore crash that the Calicut runway was unsafe for landing and needed to be reevaluated.
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