Plane skids off runway in India; 17 killed, including pilots

Video of the scene at crash site at Kozhikode Intl Airport in Calicut, India

NEW DELHI – At least 17 people were killed and 123 injured when a special return flight for Indians stranded abroad because of the coronavirus skidded off a hilltop runway and cracked in two while landing Friday in heavy rain in the southern state of Kerala, police said.

Among the injured, at least 15 were in critical condition, said Abdul Karim, a senior Kerala state police officer. Rescue operations were over, he said.

The dead included both pilots of the Air India Express flight, the airline said in a statement, adding that the four cabin crew members were safe.

The 2-year-old Boeing 737-800 flew from Dubai to Kozhikode, also called Calicut, in Kerala, India’s southernmost state, the airline said. There were 174 adult passengers, 10 infants, two pilots and four cabin crew on board.

Kozhikode's 2,850-meter (9,350-foot) runway is on a flat hilltop with deep gorges on either side ending in a 34-meter (112-foot) drop.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep S. Puri said in a statement that the flight “overshot the runway in rainy conditions and went down” the slope, breaking into two pieces upon impact.

A similar tragedy was narrowly avoided at the same airport a year ago, when an Air India Express flight suffered a tail strike upon landing. None of the 180 passengers of that flight was injured.

An inquiry will be conducted by the ministry’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau.