When the Air India Express plane fell off the runway and broke into pieces on Friday evening at the Kozhikode airport in Kerala, the first to see the crash were the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel manning the airport boundary.
They were also the first to reach the spot, to the frightening sight of screaming passengers, wailing children and pieces of the plane's fuselage scattered all over a slope.
"Our personnel could see the crash from the elevated perimeter posts, so we were the first responders," CISF special Director General MA Ganapathy told NDTV.
By and by, more rescue personnel joined them. Families of CRPF personnel also helped.
Some passengers were stuck in the debris, said Mr Ganapathy. In some cases, the seat belts were jammed. They were finally pulled out a few hours later with special equipment used by the National Disaster Response Force.
"Fortunately, there was no fire, so it was more of a physical effort and delicate maneuvering to pull out the passengers," said the top CISF officer.
In the blur of rescue efforts, masks were the only protection against the coronavirus; the passengers from Dubai would have been quarantined immediately in different circumstances.
"Now we have a fair idea how to deal with pandemic as well as disaster. The men wearing masks but we have to forego considerations of personal safety in these times," Mr Ganapathy said.
The pilots of the flight aborted two landings and circled the airport several times before the final landing in the heavy downpour. The plane overshot the runway and fell over the edge, sliding 35 feet into a valley.