Calicut Air India Crash: Landing against Odds
Was Air India Crash Avoidable? Tragedy struck the shores of Kerala on Friday 7th August 2020, when a Dubai-Calicut plane, which was a repatriation flight operated under the Vande Bharat mission, skid off the runway, killing as many as 18 people. The Air India Express flight no. IX1344 VT-AXH skidded off the runway and fell into a valley 35 feet deep before being split into half. The pilot in command of the fateful flight was Captain Deepak Sathe and the co-pilot was Akhilesh Kumar. The flight was carrying as many as 190 people, with infants and children on board as well. The Pilot’s role in the crash is much discussed and a thorough investigation is in the process but here is what we know so far.
Captain Deepak Sathe was a war hero, a veteran of the Kargil War in 1999 a former IAF Wing Commander who flew the much talked about MIG-21 fighter jets. After 22 years of service, he had later become a test pilot, followed by a stint as a commercial pilot. By all accounts, Captain Sathe seemed to be a thorough professional who was well suited for the job.
Kozhikode Air India Crash: What exactly happened?
In a statement The Civil Aviation Ministry said the Boeing 737 aircraft on a flight from Dubai to Kozhikode overshot the runway at Kozhikode airport at 7.41 PM on Friday. “No fire was reported at the time of landing,” This was the official reason given for the crash of the aircraft.
As per reports because of heavy rains in Calicut at the time, the runway, which is a tabletop runaway had become a tricky place to land the flight. The visibility was also heavily compromised, and the pilot could not sight the runway in the first landing attempt due to heavy rain, this is as per Airport Authority of India. A spokesperson also said that it was raining over the airfield and reported visibility at the time of landing was 2000 meters.
According to Indian Express, Captain Sathe tried to land the aircraft twice and in the second attempt, touched down near a taxiway that is around 1000 metres from the beginning of the Calicut runway. The total length of the runway is 2700 meters and the aircraft touched down near taxiway ‘C’, which is approximate 1,000 metres from the beginning of runway 10. This means that the plane had just 1700 metres to complete the landing. A Boeing 737-800 at Sea level needs about 2000 metres to land, much more due to the bad runway conditions. Bad weather, short run way, wrong landing approach all contributed to the Calicut Air India Crash
Captain Sathe probably slowed down the speed of the aircraft as much as he could but he was short of runway at the fag end falling down the 35 feet slope. It is believed that quick thinking of the pilot in switching off the engine prevented the aircraft from catching fire and saved lives.
Criticism from Experts
Some Ex-Pilots believe that Captain Sathe should have done a TOGA, an aviation term that means, Take Off/Go Around and tried to land at a different runway in Kerala, which has 4 designated airports. However, it is too early to blame the Pilot.
Aviation security expert Mohan Ranganathan while commenting in the Hindustan Times blamed Airport Authority and DGCA and said
“I understand that Runway 10 ILS is being used on a trial basis at Calicut. Some of the crew are accepting even VOR approach on Runway 10. The reason is the lower minima than Runway 28. However, all the flights that land on Runway 10 in tailwind conditions in rain, are endangering the lives of all on board,”. “The runway strip is just half the minimum width laid down in ICAO Annex 14.
The investigation into Kozhikode Air India Crash is still ongoing and we will find out more about this accident in the coming days and weeks. With the COVID also at this moment, it needs to be seen how Boeing will be involved in the investigation.