A special evacuation flight bringing people home to India who had been trapped abroad because of the coronavirus pandemic skidded off a runway and split into two while landing Friday in heavy rain in the southern state of Kerala, killing at least 18 passengers and injuring 123 more, officials said.
The NDTV news channel said the plane flew from Dubai to Kozhikode, also called Calicut, in Kerala, India’s southernmost state.
Sakeena K., the district medical officer in the nearby city of Malappuram, said that 17 people had died.
"We are still ascertaining the toll," she told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Kozhikode official Seeram Sambasiva said that the two pilots of the two-year-old Boeing 737-800 flying for Air India Express airline were among the dead.
Abdul Karim, a senior Kerala state police officer, said at least 22 of the injured were in critical condition, and that rescue operations were over.
Rajiv Jain, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Ministry, said no fire was reported on the Boeing 737 aircraft after it landed.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep S. Puri said in a statement that the flight "overshot the runway in rainy conditions and went down 35 feet (10.6 meters) into a slope before breaking up into two pieces.”
An inquiry will be conducted by the ministry’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau, he said.
Dubai-based aviation consultant Mark Martin said that while it was too early to determine the cause of the crash, annual monsoon conditions appeared to be a factor.
“Low visibility, wet runway, low cloud base, all leading to very poor braking action is what looks like led to where we are at the moment with this crash,” Martin said, calling for the European Aviation Safety Agency and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to assist with the Indian government's investigation.
Amitabh Kant, who heads the government's planning commission, said the runway is on a hilltop with deep gorges on either side, making it difficult to land.
“The incident happened because of heavy rains and poor visibility. This is truly devastating,” he told NDTV.
It was a repatriation flight carrying Indian citizens back to the country, officials said. Regular commercial flights have been halted in India because of the coronavirus outbreak.
There were 174 adult passengers, 10 infants, two pilots and four cabin crew onboard the aircraft, Jain said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was “pained by the plane accident in Kozhikode,” and that he had spoken to Kerala’s top elected official.
Indian Home Minister Amit Shah said in a tweet that he was "distressed to learn about the tragic accident of Air India Express aircraft at Kozhikode.”
In a message late Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu expressed his condolences to the Indian people.
“Condolences to the people of #India and the relatives of those who lost their lives in the tragic plane crash occurred in Kerala, India. Wishing speedy recovery to the injured,” Çavuşoğlu said on Twitter.
Air India Express is an Air India subsidiary.