Air India Express Flight IX-1344 Operating Dubai to Kozhikode Skids off the Runway; Several Casualties Reported

Air India Express Flight IX-1344 Operating Dubai to Kozhikode Skids off the Runway; Several Casualties Reported

In a heartbreaking incident clocked around 7:40 PM IST, a Boeing 737-800 Air India Express Flight skidded off the runway in Kozhikode, broke into two and fell 35 feet into the valley slope at the end of the runway causing several casualties. At the time of writing, both the pilots on board were confirmed to have tragically lost their lives. The flight operating as a part of the Vande Bharat Mission was carrying 190 passengers on board, including the crew. The Pilot in Command or PIC was an Ex-IAF Wg Cdr Deepak V Sathe with Captain Akhilesh Kumar in the seat of the First Officer. Being a tabletop runway, Kozhikode is a PIC only landing air strip, which means Captain DV Sathe would have been in command of the flight.

VT-AXH, the plane that skidded off the runway on a sunnier day, image source: Jetphotos

Based on the initial pictures from the site, the plane appears to have broken apart from the forward section causing maximum fatalities among those who were seated in the front. The single runway 10/28 at Kozhikode airport is located on a flattened hill and the incident brings back horror images of the 2010 Air India Express Mangalore crash, another airport located on a similar hilltop. The Kozhikode Airport is about 2.8km long, has a 60m stopway and a 93m RESA before the dropoff. The airport is located at Karipur in Malappuram district of Kerala and was given the status of an International airport in 2006. There have been safety concerns about the operations at the airport in the past and in 2017, a SpiceJet Bombardier Dash 8 skidded on landing. There were no casualties then.

Kozhikode runway from Google Earth

The rains in Kozhikode appears to have made an already different approach tougher for the operating crew. The METAR reported at the time of the crash was: VOCL 071400Z 26012KT 2000 -RA SCT003 SCT012 FEW025CB OVC080 24/23 Q1008 TEMPO 1500 -RA BR

The flight was operated by VT-AXH, a 13 year old aircraft, which had performed IX1343, flying CCJ-DXB in the morning departing India at 10:30AM. While it is too early to speculate on the number of fatalities, the reason for the crash, the incident has sent shockwaves across the nation already grappling with the rising COVID-19 cases.

A quick glance at the flight path (via Flightradar24) and the altitude & speed charts for the flight and comparing it to the same flight on 5th August, the exact same VT-AXH did, reveals some interesting observations. On the 7th, owing to the bad weather perhaps, the PIC decided to go around, perhaps flying the missed approach procedure, however, at the time of landing at an altitude of about 1800 feet, the plane was at 183knots as compared to the flight on the 5th, which was considerably slower at 140knots at the similar altitude.

Flight speed & altitude data of IX-1344 on 7th August from Flightradar24Again, there may not be much to read into the speeds and altitudes as these are just indicative and nobody really knows what the crew was going through. To even comment something like, why did the PIC even attempt a landing and not divert will be irresponsible. The exact details will clearly be revealed post the CVR and FDR are interpreted. Speculating anything before that would be a great disservice to two meritorious airmen. Till more detail emerges post an official enquiry, all we should do sitting from a distance is wish for the swift recovery of the survivors and send prayers and strength to the families of those deceased.

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