Monday, August 10, 2020

What happened in the minutes before Air India Express 1344 crashed in Calicut

Shahad Banu was allotted seat 23C on Air India Express 1344, that took off from Dubai on August 7, and crash landed in Calicut at 7.40 pm IST. The 26-year-old was one of the survivors in the crash that took 19 lives, including the pilots. While there have been a lot of discussions on what could have led to the crash, and whether table-top runways are safe, for Shahad and others inside the plane, who were finally returning home on a rescue flight, what happened will be etched in memory forever. “I felt that the flight was hovering in the air for far too long,” Shahad tells TNM, recalling the minutes before the crash. “When we landed the second time, it did not feel normal at all. In fact, it felt like we were being pulled to the front and the wheels were moving through gravel.”
“There was a loud, screechy noise and then the flight seemed like it was in air again,” Shahad Banu recalls – perhaps the exact moment when the aircraft overshot the tabletop runway, “within seconds, the plane crashed.”

Passengers who TNM spoke to say that for the most part, the flight on IX 1344 was regular – expected. “When I boarded I knew that the air hostess etc will not be interacting with us much because of COVID-19 protocols. They had kept our food on our seats and had minimal interaction with us,” Shahad says.
A few rows behind her, in 27B, was Muhammad Shafaf, a 28-year-old returning to Kerala after his Visa expired. “While taking off, instructions to put on the seat belt were given in English and Hindi,” he says, “There were no instructions in Malayalam. The cabin crew also acted out the instructions.”
“Around 7 pm, there was an announcement that we are reaching the Calicut airport,” Shafaf recalls, “It was a clear instruction. We were asked to put on our seat belts. There was nothing unusual,” he says.

“After that however, they did not land,” says 48-year-old Sajeev Kumar.

“But after this announcement, I could see that it was raining outside,” Shafaf says, “The weather was not very good. I felt jerks in between – similar to what we feel when a vehicle goes over a pothole.”

“I could feel the flight going around in circles,” says 31-year-old Youjin. “It continued to go around for 20 minutes. Usually flights do this when the runway is busy or in similar conditions. So I did not panic since this was usual,” he adds.

“I was tense when the first landing attempt failed. We expected something wrong,” Sajeevkumar says.
It was at this point – just before the second attempt at landing – that another announcement was made, say passengers. However, no one could actually hear what was being said.

“I think there was a signal problem,” says 21-year-old Hadiya. “I couldn’t hear it. I could only hear “Calicut..” This was sometime before the landing.”

“There was no announcement about the weather either... They may have said something, but the signal was cut and we couldn't hear anything,” Hadiya adds.

All passengers who TNM spoke to confirmed that the second announcement was unclear. On reports that many people had taken off their seatbelts too soon, Sajeevkumar says, “We were all wearing seat belts and nobody was seen standing after touching the ground.”

“The lights in the cabin were dimmed,” says 39-year-old Ratheesh, “Only the emergency lights were on. Nobody who sat near me took out their seat belt.”

And then, the plane crashed.
10/08/20 News Minute
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