Junior Foreign Minister V Muraleedharan has dismissed aspersions on the condition of the runway in Kerala's Kozhikode "tabletop" airport, where a Boeing 737 NG of Air India Express broke in two after landing last night, killing 18 including the two pilots. The plane that came from Dubai had 184 on board.
The Union Minister told NDTV around 100 flights have landed at Kozhikode airport since May 7 under the Vande Bharat Mission that brings home Indians who are stranded abroad amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"I was briefed by the airport authorities that there was heavy rain and the first landing attempt was unsuccessful. When it landed in the second attempt the aircraft skid towards the left and it crashed into the side and broke into pieces," Muraleedharan told NDTV.
"Yesterday itself the Civil Aviation Minister clarified that the earlier reports about the condition of the runway has nothing to do with yesterday's incident. We have a couple of tabletop airports in the country, but whether those airports are fit to continue is a larger question. Having said that, I'd like to remind you that from May 7 onwards, more than a hundred flights under the Vande Bharat Mission have landed at Kozhikode. So tabletop runway cannot be ruled out completely," the minister told NDTV.
"But at the same time in such weather conditions how a tabletop airport can prove to be hazardous is another question. I understand that the pilot who was manning the aircraft yesterday was a very experienced person, who has served in the Indian Air Force. He has many accomplishments to his credit," the Union Minister said.
He said the planes that landed at Kozhikode since May 7 include wide-body aircraft that can carry up to 300 people, pointing out that the runway was more than capable of handling the narrow-body Boeing 737 NG that crashed yesterday.
A tabletop runway sits on top of a plateau or hill with one or both ends adjacent to a steep elevation, which drops into a gorge. Such an airport presents a challenging condition for landing.
The minister said 120 people have been admitted in 13 hospitals in Kozhikode. "Some of them have minor injuries, and after first aid they have been allowed to go home," Mr Muraleedharan told NDTV.
The last major plane crash in India was in 2010 when an Air India Express Boeing 737-800 from Dubai to Mangalore overshot the runway and burst into flames. The crash killed 158 people and left eight survivors.
Kerala has been battered by heavy rains in recent days.