Saturday, May 22, 2010

Fortunate to be alive: Survivor Pradeep

Charred bodies, strewn luggage and mangled remains of the Air India aircraft, which overshot the runway at the airport here and caught fire, bore a grim testimony to the tragedy which unfolded early on Saturday.

Thick smoke billowed from the Boeing 737-800 aircraft flying from Dubai to Mangalore carrying on board 160 passengers, including four infants, and six crew members as it hit the fence and went beyond the boundary wall of the airport near Kenjar village.

"The plane shook with vibrations before it split into two. As soon as it hit the ground, I managed to get out and jump into a pit. There was smoke all over as the plane caught fire. After ten minutes, there was an explosion," said Pradeep, one of the seven survivors.

"I can't believe I survived the crash," he said reliving the moments minutes before the aircraft went up in flames.

Pradeep and a few others managed to jump from the aircraft which broke into two pieces in the hilly area with thick grass and trees.

He said the plane's initial touchdown appeared smooth at first but trouble started within 15-20 seconds. "First there was a small fire but it spread quickly," he said.

Abdul Puthur, another survivor, said he along with two others, managed to get out of the mangled remains of the aircraft from an opening on the left side.

With his head wrapped in bandages, another passenger Umar Farooq, who also suffered burn injuries on his hands and legs said, "The plane overshot the runway only to stop inside a forest area and then it burst into flames."

"It has been a hair-raising experience and I am fortunate to be still alive," said Umar Farooq, one of the lucky survivors.

Farooq managed to jump out of the aircraft from a gap as it caught fire after one of its wings hit a hillock before landing at Kenjar near here.

He said the aircraft experienced turbulence and crashed in a forest area.

"The aircraft was full. But I don't know the number of passengers on board", he said, adding he heard a loud thud. ”There was a commotion after the aircraft caught fire and smoke engulfed it, he said, adding "I saw a broken passage in the aircraft and I jumped out of it".

He said he walked for about half a kilometre inside the rocky terrain and locals who saw him took him on a motorcycle for some distance, before rushing him to a hospital by an autorickshaw.

Farooq also told his family that there was no pre-landing message from the crew and the passengers were not even asked to fasten their seat belts.

As far as the information available with us is concerned, eight persons were rescued and shifted to local hospitals in Mangalore for their treatment," Air India personnel director Anup Shrivastava told reporters in Mumbai. Among the eight survivors, one person died on the way to hospital, an Air India spokesman said.

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