By Team Mangalorean
Pics: Rajesh Shetty
Mangalore/Mumbai/Kasargod, May 23 (IANS) A day after the Mangalore air crash claimed 158 lives, the Air India Sunday defended its pilots, asserting they were experianced and well rested, as the shocked families, many of them from Kerala, went through the painful task of identifying their loved ones and conducting their last rites.
At least 146 bodies, mostly charred beyond recognition, were identified by the families by Sunday evening, Air India chairman-cum-managing director Arvind Jadhav said in Mangalore.
Emotional scenes were witnessed at the Government Wenlock Hospital in Mangalore as grieving relatives and friends went through the traumatic experience of having to pick their lost loved ones from the scores of badly burnt bodies.
For the kin of about a dozen victims, however, the agonising wait may be longer as DNA tests will be necessary to establish their identity.
"We are hopeful another seven to eight bodies will be identified by the family members while DNA test may become necessary to identify around 20 victims," Deputy Superintendent of Police (Mangalore) R. Rajesh said.
All the victims were Indians working or settled in the Gulf. Among the dead were 19 children and four infants.
There were just eight survivors, who were either thrown out or jumped out from the burning wreckage in one of the worse tragedies in Indian aviation history. All eight are said to be out of danger.
In Government Wenlock hospital, most of the victims' relatives were too numbed to talk and preferred to be left alone to grieve.
The Air India Express IX 812 Dubai-Mangalore flight overshot the runway Saturday morning while landing at the Bajpe airport, about 20 km from Mangalore, and burst into flames after plunging about 300 metres off a cliff.
Jhadav, however, maintained that both the pilots were highly experieanced with thousands of flying hours behind them.
Flight commander Z. Glusica, a British national of Serbian origin, and co-pilot H.S. Ahluwalia had three-and-a-half days' rest too prior to flying the Boeing 737, Jadhav told a press conference here.
Freinds and relatives carry the coffin of crash victim Roselin, followed by the coffins of her two daughters Godline and Gloria
Anil (C), father of Tejal Kamolkar, a member of the cabin crew of the crashed Air India Express plane, performs rituals during his daughter's cremation on the outskirts Mumbai
The mother of co-pilot Captain H S Ahluwalia, right, who died in the Air India Express plane crash in Mangalore, reacts during his funeral in Mumbai
Relatives receive the body of Abdul Rehman who died in Mangalore Air Crash in Chikmagalur
Asked if the crash could have been caused by pilot fatigue, Jhadav sad: "No...both were well-rested. We had very nice aircrafts and well-qualified experienced pilots."
As an air crash, specially one involving international flights, entails questions of insurance and compensation for huge amounts by international insurers, the speculative reports pinning the blame on one or the other would undermine the victims' interest, Jadhav said.
"All these speculations will only hurt the victims, their relatives and the survivors in terms of getting justice for them and in terms of getting compensation for them."
The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in a statement said the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and a part of the black box containing the digital flight data acquisition unit (DFDAU) of the plane were handed over to it by the search party.
Neighbouring Kerala mourned death of 66 Malayalis in the crash.
In Kasargod and Kannur, the two northern districts of the state Kerala, 30 funerals took place Sunday morning.
Of the 66 victims, 54 have been identified.
Pareppu, a small village in Kasargod was witness to seven funerals.
One of the tragic tales is of 46-year-old Abdul Samad from Kannur. He was coming from Dubai to see his wife and children after three years. He was in Dubai for 18 years.
"He was supposed to come for his vacation last week. For some reason he postponed his trip by a week. His wife and kids were at the arrival lounge when the aircraft burst into flames," Samad's relative told IANS from Kannur.
Shibhu, an IT professional, saw off his wife Rosili and two kids aged six and ninein Dubai after their vacation. Back home, people are now waiting for him to come for their funeral.
"We are all waiting for Shibhu. Rosili's parents have now been told of the tragedy," said one of Rosili's relatives.
Most expats in northern districts of Kerala prefer Mangalore international airport in Karnataka to Kozhikode as it is closer home.
In Mumbai, an Air India spokesperson said Special Assistance Team and Angels of Air India members have been assigned to assist each of the survivors and families of victims in all possible ways.
The airline will also operate additional special flights to ferry families of the victims to Mangalore, the spokesman said.
Air India's general manager Harpreet A.D. Singh, who is the emergency coordinator, said relatives of the victims coming from abroad will get three-days interim visas with the help of central government.
DGCA begins crash probe, finds voice recorder, data unit
Mangalore, May 23 (IANS) The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) late Sunday began investigating the crash of the Air India Express Boeing 737-800 (VT-AXV) after the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and a part of the black box containing the digital flight data acquisition unit (DFDAU) were handed over to it by the search party.
"The aircraft's CVR has been recovered. Though affected by fire, it is expected to yield the desired information," the regulator said in a statement here.
Though DFDAU, a parallel unit of the digital flight data recorder (DFDR), which records flight parameter for shorter duration has also been recovered, search for the latter (DFDR) is continuing," the statement pointed out.
The DGCA appointed Air Safety director Bir Singh Rai as an inspector of accidents to assist the investigation team and experts.
"Analysis of CVR and flight data will be conducted in the next fortnight. Similarly, analysis of records pertaining to the crash will take a couple of weeks," a probe official told IANS, citing the statement.
The DGCA will send the CVR and the black box to the probe team after recovering the flight data recorder by Monday.
The probe team inspected the aircraft wreckage at the crash site, runway and adjoining area of the Bajpe airport, about 20 km from this coastal city.
For ascertaining the causes behind the air mishap, which claimed 158 lives, the investigation team has formed four groups -- engineering and wreckage group, operations group, air traffic control group and aerodrome group.
The wreckage group has been split into two-three sub-teams to search for various evidence.
"Preliminary replay of air traffic control (ATC) tapes has been carried out along with analysis of the conversation between the ATC and pilots -- captain Zlotka Glusica, who was commanding the aircraft, and co-pilot captain H.S. Ahluwalia," the official said.
The teams have completed preliminary investigation of navigational, aerodrome and runway facilities that were in use when the aircraft coming from Dubai overshot the tabletop runway while landing and plunged into the gorge to a fiery crash.
Similarly, records pertaining to the aircraft and air crew such as engineering, operations, training, ATC, fire fighting and allied services have been collected for analysis.
Families mourn death of co-pilot, air hostess
Mumbai, May 23 (IANS) The bodies of co-pilot H.S. Ahluwalia and air hostess Tejal Kamulkar of the Air India Express aircraft, which crashed at Mangalore airport Saturday, were brought here late Sunday evening.
Grief-stricken families of the two crew members were present at the airport to receive the bodies.
A crowd of more than 200 people had gathered near Kamulkar's residence in Dombivali town of Thane district. Amongst the crowd were friends, relatives and neighbours of the air hostess.
"With the news of Tejal's death appearing in newspapers today (Sunday), we all knew of the tragedy and have come here to support the family," said Kamulkar's neighbour.
While Tejal's mother Bharti was crying constantly, her brother Gaurav, 22, a final year engineering student was distraught with agony. "I don't know what to do without her," was all he could say in between sobs.
But he steeled himself and went for Tejal's cremation so that he could get a last glimpse of his elder sister.
Childhood friend and neighbour, Pradnya Lele said Tejal had become an example for the neighbourhood girls when she was recruited as air hostess in Air India.
"Tejal was proud of the fact that she fulfilled her dream of becoming an air hostess. In this neighbourhood where people hardly fly, becoming an air hostess was talked about highly," said Lele.
There were similar scenes at 41-year-old Ahluwalia's residence in suburban Andheri. Ahluwalia was serving as a co-pilot for 15 years.
"I have flown with Ahluwalia on a few occasions and his loss will be felt in the entire pilot fraternity," Girish Kaushik, a senior Jet Airways pilot, told mediapersons here.
Air hostess Sujata Survase, who was also killed in the crash, was also from Andheri. Her body has not yet been brought here.
Kerala to pay Rs.3 lakh each for its 46 crash victims
Mangalore/Thiruvananthapuram, May 23 (IANS) The Kerala government Sunday announced a compensation of Rs.3 lakh each for all the 46 people from the state who perished in Saturday's air crash in Mangalore.
The office of Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan made this announcement.
Of the 159 people killed in the crash, 46 were from Kerala. Of these, 38 bodies have been identified. Funerals of 31 victims were conducted in Kerala's Kannur and Kasargode districts Sunday.
Relatives of eight other crash victims from Kerala are waiting in Mangalore to identify the bodies.
The Air India IX 812 Dubai-Mangalore flight overshot the runway while landing at the Bajpe airport, about 20 km from here, early Saturday and caught fire after plunging about 300 metres off a cliff.
All passengers were Indians, many returning home from Dubai where they worked.
M'lore: Aircraft pilots were experienced, well-rested: AI chief
Air India Sunday asserted that the pilot and co-pilot of its Boeing 737 aircraft which crashed and killed 158 people, including the two pilots and four crew members, Saturday here were experienced and well-rested.
"No, both were well-rested," Air India chairman and managing director Arvind Jadhav said in response to a question on whether pilot fatigue caused the crash, one of the worst aviation disasters in the country in a decade.
Flight commander Z. Glusica, a British national of Serbian origin, and co-pilot H.S. Ahluwalia had three-and-a-half days of rest prior to flying the Boeing 737, flight IX 812, from Dubai to Mangalore, Jadhav told a press conference here.
Jadhav said Glusica had 19 landings in Mangalore and had over 9,000 hours of flying experience while Ahluwalia had over 3,700 hours of flying experience.
"I cannot ask for a better pilot than Ahluwalia," the Air India head said, adding he was due for commandership in one month.
On Mangalore airport being a difficult one for landing, Jadhav said Indian Airlines, which has now merged with Air India, had been operating the flights from the airport for the last 15 to 20 years. Also Mangalore was not the only airport on Western Ghats; there were Goa and Kozhikode airports too.
He denied any norms of Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) were violated by either Air India or the pilots of the crashed aircraft. There are strict DGCA norms of flying for airports like Mangalore and these were followed, Jadhav said.
He said Air India would give Rs.10 lakh each to the families of those aged 12 years and above killed in the crash, and Rs.5 lakh to those below 12. This is an interim monetary relief pending the finalisation of full compensation, he said.
He also said that Rs.200,000 will be given to each injured in the crash.
"This (the compensation) is over and above the ex gratia relief announced by Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh)," Jadhav said.
He said the interim relief was decided after Air India held talks with an insurance company. "Finalising the rest of the compensation will take time and that compensation will be adjusted with the interim compensation," he noted.
The Air India chief managing director said that any dispute related to claiming of the compensation will be settled with the local administration.
Jadhav appealed to the media to observe restraint and not speculate about the causes that led to the IX 812 to crash.
"Speculations will hinder (the compensation process). It will have international ramifications. This is a tragic incident," he said.
Asked about the initial probe report if any, Jadhav said he was here to attend to the families of the victims and ensure they get proper response from the airline.
"I have interacted with the injured. We have a response team and they will act as counsellors. My heart goes out to them (families of the victims)," he added.
Jadhav profusely thanked people of the villages near the crash site for rushing to help in the rescue operation. Air India has a very small staff of 10 or 12 people in Mangalore. "We are overwhelmed by the people's response. Young doctors, students, NGOs all came forward to help," he noted.
Jadhav said counseling centres were being set up at all offices of Air India Express as the staff too needed help to get over the shock and trauma from the tragedy.
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