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Investigators scour wreckage of crashed Air India flight
Investigators recovered on Sunday the cockpit voice recorder from the wreckage of an Air India Express flight that crashed outside an airport in southern India the previous day, killing 158. It is the country's worst crash since 2000.
AFP - Investigators sifting through the charred wreckage of an Indian passenger plane that plunged into a ravine, killing 158 people on board, found Sunday the cockpit voice recorder.
The Air India Express Boeing 737-800, carrying 160 passengers and six crew on a flight from Dubai, careered off the "table-top" runway at Bajpe airport on Saturday and ploughed into a forested gorge, bursting into flames.
Some of the eight people who survived the crash about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the southwest coastal city of Mangalore told how they had escaped as the fuselage broke into pieces and filled with thick smoke.
Arvind Jadhav, chairman of Air India, said at a press briefing in Mangalore on Sunday that all 158 bodies had been recovered but that 12 remained unidentified.
"I visited the hospitals and interacted with survivors," he said. "My heart goes out to those who died and who lost friends and relatives."
Jadhav said both pilots were well rested before they flew, the UNI news agency reported.
At the scene, search teams were still hunting for the "black box" digital flight data recorder that should provide information on the cause of the tragedy.
Late Sunday they recovered the cockpit voice recorder, the PTI news agency quoted the civil aviation ministry was quoted as saying.
The probe into the crash resumed at first light on Sunday with the wreckage area cordoned off. Immediately after the accident, crowds of local residents had streamed to the site to help rescue victims.
"At times we dragged them by a hand or by the leg," Mohammed Azim, one of the first people to reach the plane, told the CNN-IBN news channel.
About 25 investigators used mechanical metal-cutters to start their examination of the wreckage, while hired labourers cleaned up debris scattered widely across the muddy slopes.
The few survivors of India's worst aviation disaster in 14 years described hearing a loud thud shortly after touchdown.
Officials said the landing conditions were fair with good visibility and reported there had been no distress call from the cockpit.
It was the country's deadliest crash since 1996 when two passenger planes collided in mid-air near New Delhi with the loss of all 349 on board both flights.
One survivor, Umer Farooq, spoke to reporters from his hospital bed where he was being treated for burns to his arms, legs and face.
"The plane veered off toward some trees on the side and then the cabin filled with smoke," he said. "I got caught in some cables but managed to scramble out."
One Indian man lost 16 family members who were travelling home to attend the funeral of another relative, the Dubai-based Khaleej Times reported on Sunday. They included his wife and two children.
Television images from the immediate aftermath of the crash showed smoke billowing from the fuselage as emergency crews, who struggled down steep, wooded slopes to reach the aircraft, doused the fire with foam.
"The preliminary observation is that the aircraft touched down and did not contain itself within the runway space," Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said Saturday.
He described the chief pilot, a Serbian national, as a "very experienced" flier who had logged 10,000 hours of flying time.
Stressing that it was too early to determine the precise cause of the crash, Patel noted that the sanded safety area surrounding the runway in the event of an overshoot was shorter than at some airports.
Air India Express is a budget airline operated as a subsidiary by the state-run carrier. Many of the passengers were migrant workers returning from jobs in the Gulf to visit their families.
"The majority of (passengers) were living in Dubai," Anand Panbey, the United Arab Emirates country manager for Air India, told AFP, confirming all the passengers and crew except the pilot were Indian nationals.
US-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing said it was sending a team of investigators to India to help in the inquiry.
The last major plane crash in India was in 2000, when 61 people were killed after a passenger jet plunged into a residential area near the eastern city of Patna.
The country's air safety record has been good in recent years despite the rapid increase in airlines keen to serve increasingly wealthy domestic customers.
Saturday's disaster came as Air India is struggling to turn round its finances after posting a net loss of more than one billion dollars last year.