The pilots of the Air India Express plane that skidded off the runway and broke into two at Kerala's Kozhikode were among the 18 who lost their lives on Friday evening. They were Wing Commander Deepak Vasant Sathe and Captain Akhilesh Kumar.
Wing Commander Deepak V Sathe was a decorated former fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force who flew planes for Air India before he went on to Air India Express flights.
An alumnus of the National Defence Academy, he was described as very experienced in flying Boeing 737 planes.
"Captain Deepak V Sathe was from 58th course of the NDA. He was from the Juliet Squadron," Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale (Retd) was quoted as telling PTI.
"He passed out from Air Force Academy in Hyderabad with a Sword of Honour in June 1981," he added. He remembered him as an excellent squash player.
"He was very professional and had been awarded the 58 NDA President Gold Medal. He had been a test pilot for the Air Force," said another officer.
According to reports, Captain Sathe flew Airbus 310s for Air India. He was an accomplished fighter pilot before he decided to become a commercial pilot.
Captain Akhilesh Kumar, his co-pilot, had been married last year. "He was a very humble, polite and well-behaved person. His wife is expecting to deliver their child in the next 15 to 17 days. He joined the Air India in 2017 and had come home last before the lockdown," his cousin Basudev was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
The flight was part of the Vande Bharat programme that has been bringing back Indians from abroad amid the coronavirus pandemic.
According to flight-tracking website FlightRadar24, the aircraft circled the airport several times and made two attempts to land on the tabletop runway, surrounded by deep gorges on both sides.
Helplines: Air India Express - 1800 2222 71, Airport Control Room - 0483 2719493, Malappuram Collectorate - 0483 2736320, Kozhikode Collectorate - 0495 2376901.
(With inputs from PTI and ANI)