Air India plane crash kills about 160; few survive

NEW DELHI—An Air India Express passenger plane from Dubai overshot a runway and crashed outside an airport in southern India on Saturday, killing about 160 people in one of the worst air accidents in India in years.

The accident occurred near Mangalore airport, about 30 kilometres away from Mangalore city, in Karnataka state.

A spokesperson for Air India has confirmed that about eight people survived the initial crash, but gave no information about the extent of the survivors’ injuries. Air India said the plane was a Boeing 737-800, with 166 people on board, including six crew members and four infants. Earlier estimates of the deceased and the number of people on the plane had varied slightly.

The passengers’ nationalities have not yet been released.  Air India Express is a budget airline ran by state-run carrier  “At least 160 passengers have died in the crash,” V.S. Acharya, home minister of the southern state of Karnataka, told reporters. “At least five to six people have been taken to hospital, their condition is not known.”

Television images showed dense black smoke billowing from the aircraft surrounded by flames just outside the Mangalore city airport in a hilly area with thick grass and trees.

Television channels said the plane crashed around 6:30 a.m. (0100 GMT).

“The aircraft has broken up into pieces and fire has engulfed the aircraft. There is lot of smoke,” said Gopal Hosur, a senior police officer in Mangalore.

“The plane apparently overshot the runway and has crashed. We have news that the plane caught fire after crashing,” said Rohit Katiyar, a top airport security official.  Firefighters sprayed water on the plane as rescue workers struggled to find survivors. One firefighter ran up a hill with an injured child in his arms.

“This is a major calamity,” Karnataka Home Minister V.S. Acharya told CNN-IBN TV.   The aircraft overshot the runway, hit a fence and went beyond the boundary wall of the airport, according to the Press Trust of India.

The crash could be the deadliest in India since the November 1996 midair collision between a Saudi airliner and a Kazakh cargo plane near New Delhi that killed 349 people.

The airport’s location, on a plateau surrounded by hills, made it difficult for the firefighters to reach the scene Saturday, officials said.

Pre-monsoon rains over the past two days caused low visibility in the area, officials said.

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