Mangalore, May 22 – An Air India Express passenger plane from Dubai crashed outside an airport in southern India on Saturday, killing at least 160 people when it burst into flames after overshooting the runway and plunging into a forest.
There may have been five or six survivors, local media said.
One eyewitness said the plane skidded off the runway in rain at Mangalore airport in Karnataka state.
Air India said the plane was a Boeing 737-800, with 166 people on board, including six crew members. Air India Express is the budget arm of state-run carrier Air India.
“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.”
First indications are that the crash was an accident, officials say.
Television channels said the plane crashed around 6:30 a.m. (0100 GMT). TV images showed it struck a forested area. Flames were seen blazing from of some of the wreckage as rescue workers fought to bring the fire under control.
“The plane had broken into two. I jumped out of the plane after it crashed. I saw two other people also come out,” Abdullah, a survivor from the plane, told local channel TV9 from hospital.
“There was tyre-burst kind of noise. I tried to get out of the front but saw that there was a big fire. So I went back again and jumped out from there.”
One television channel showed a fireman carrying in his arms what seemed to be the remains of a child. Charred bodies and an engine lay in the forested terrain.
“The flight had already landed. There was slight rain. The flight skidded off,” eyewitness Mohiuddin Bava told CNN-IBN channel. “After that it caught fire. Villagers, everyone there, came to rescue. The plane wings are right in front of me now.”
Air India Express is the low cost arm of Air India. The budget airline started about five years ago. This is the first crash involving an Air India Express plane, according to an Air India spokesman.
Air India is a state-run loss making carrier. The government has been trying to infuse funds to revive the airline against stiff competition from private carriers.