The crash site Credit:

New Delhi: Investigating officers from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) on Saturday morning started their probe into the Air India Express crash at Kozhikode airport in Kerala, one of the tabletop airports of the country. Twenty people, including the two pilots, died in the accident.

The Vande Bharat Mission flight, it had 190 people on board, 184 passengers, two pilots and four cabin crew members.

This is the second incident of an accident at a tabletop runway. The Friday disaster brings back the memory of the Mangalore air crash in 2010 in which nearly 160 people lost their lives.

In May 2010, an Air India Express flight from Dubai went down at the time of landing at the international airport in Mangalore. The plane had split into two during that disaster too.

The Vande Bharat Mission flight, it had 190 people onboard — 184 passengers, two pilots and four cabin crew members

The configuration of Mangalore Airport has been cited as a factor in the Mangalore Air crash of May 22, 2010. The Boeing 737 involved overshot the runway threshold touchdown area, failed to stop, went out of control, and rolled down a steep hillside.

Meanwhile, an Air India Express (AIE) flight took off around 2 am from Delhi to Kozhikode carrying investigating officers from DGCA and AAIB, AIE’s chief executive and other officials of AI and AIE.

A second plane took off from Mumbai to Kozhikode around 6 am on Saturday carrying Angels of Air India and GO employees who will coordinate and liaise with various agencies and provide support and assist families of those affected in this incident.

The third flight took off from Delhi around 6am carrying the Air India’s CMD and other senior officials. The civil aviation ministry has said the aircraft overshot the runway at Kozhikode airport at 7.41pm on Friday. “No fire was reported at the time of landing,” it said.

“Visibility was 2,000 metre and rains were reported. Aircraft was at full speed while landing and overshot the Runway 10. It continued running to the end of the runway and fell down in the valley and broke down into two pieces,” civil aviation regulator DGCA said.

Air India CMD Rajiv Bansal along with senior airline officers have rushed to the Air India Express incident site in Kozhikode to take stock of the situation and are being briefed by experts.

“The Air India Express pilots attempted two landings before the final one at the tabletop runway but aborted due to tailwind. According to weather radar, the approach was for runway 28 but as pilots found difficulties they went around twice and came from the opposite side on runway 10 and the plane crash-landed at Kerala’s Kozhikode airport,” news agency ANI said quoting a senior investigator from DGCA.

Captain Deepak Sathe, the pilot-in-command, and his co-pilot Akhilesh Kumar were among those who died. Sathe, 59, was a former wing commander of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and had served at the force’s flight testing establishment. The four-cabin crew members are safe, said the Air India Express in a statement.

What is a Tabletop airport?

A tabletop runway is a runway that is located on the top of a plateau or hill with one or both ends adjacent to a steep precipice which drops into a deep gorge. This type of runway creates an optical illusion which requires a very precise approach by the pilot.

There are three tabletop airports in India from where scheduled flights operate. These are Mangalore, Kozhikode and Lengpui.

Due to the undulating terrain and constraints of space, these airfields require extra skill and caution while carrying out flight operations. The hazard of undershooting and overshooting, in particular, can lead to grave situations, as was the case in the Mangalore crash in 2010.

These tabletop runways also have a problem of access roads around the airfield, which may need to be used in case of aircraft accidents. The narrow and winding roads can delay and hinder the rescue operations.

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