The death toll in the Kerala plane crash has risen to 18 after the Air India Express flight from Dubai, carrying 190 persons on board, overshoot the runway amid heavy rain, plunged deep down 35 ft. into the valley below and broke in two pieces while landing at Karipur International Airport in Kerala’s Kozhikode district late Friday evening.

According to a statement by the Air India Express, two pilots are among the dead, while all the four crew members are safe.

There were 174 passengers, 10 infants, 2 pilots and 4 cabin crew on board the aircraft.

All on board were evacuated after a nearly three-hour operation and a total of 149 injured have been admitted to hospitals in Kozhikode and Malappuram districts. At least 22 people are said to be in a critical condition.

The aircraft, which made a hard-landing, broke in two after falling off the ‘table-top’ airport, but did not catch fire and thus averted a greater disaster.

The Dubai-Kozhikode Air India flight (IX-1344) was part of the Vande Bharat mission that has been bringing back Indians from abroad amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

Following the tragedy, over 40 CISF personnel, Quick Response Team and Chief Airport Security Officer reached in minutes and started the evacuation process with the Airports Authority of India.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has ordered a detailed inquiry into the incident.

According to the aviation regulator, the Air India Express flight landed on Runway 10 amid visibility of 2,000 metres in heavy rain, but continued running till the end of runway, fell down the valley and broke into two pieces.

According to flight-tracking website FlightRadar24, the aircraft had circled the airport several times and made two attempts to land.

The national carrier, in a statement, has informed that Air India Chairman and Managing Director Rajiv Bansal, and Air India Express Chief Executive Officer K Shyam Sundar, Chief of Operations as well as the Chief of Flight Safety of Air India have already Kozhikode to take stock of the situation.

It added that two special relief flights have been arranged from Delhi and Mumbai to Kozhikode for rendering humanitarian assistance to all the passengers and the family members.

Officials from Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) AAIB and DGCA and top officials of Air India and Air India Express have reached the Karipur airport to investigate the incident.

The AAIB was formed in 2012 as an independent accident probe committee under the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

Speaking to news agency ANI, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said that the pilot “must have tried to bring the flight to the end of tabletop airport’s runway where it skidded due to slippery conditions owing to monsoon”.

“Our task would have been much more difficult if the plane had caught fire,” he said and added that he would be leaving for the Kozhikode International Airport.

Meanwhile, senior officials of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DG), Civil Aviation Ministry, Airports Authority of India, and Air Navigation Service members will meet in Delhi today to discuss the crash landing of the flight.

Amid continued efforts to remove the debris, a DGCA official has informed that the Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) has been recovered from the aircraft and the floorboard is being cut to retrieve the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). These will be brought to Delhi for further investigation.

Aviation experts have stated that a deadly combination of a slippery runway, strong tailwind, bad weather conditions, and landing ahead of the threshold spot could have resulted in the skidding of the ill-fated Air India Express in Kozhikode.

The factor of hydroplaning due to waterlogging has also been suspected.

Hydroplaning is a condition in which presence of water causes a moving wheel to lose contact with the load-bearing surface, the runway in this case. This makes braking or manoeuvring of the vehicle (plane), impossible. Hence, the aircraft’s speed could not be reduced after landing, a pilot was quoted as saying by IANS.

State health minister KK Shailaja, meanwhile, has appealed to the local people who braved all odds to save passengers in the Air India Express plane crash, to go into quarantine as a precautionary measure amidst the Coronavirus pandemic.

The United States has expressed its grief over the tragic air accident in Kerala.

“On behalf of the US Mission, we are deeply saddened by the news of the Air India accident in Kozhikode. The victims and their loved ones are in our thoughts and prayers,” tweeted US Ambassador to India, Ken Juster.

Earlier on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan over phone about the plane crash.

Prime Minister Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind, Home Minister Amit Shah and several other leaders also expressed their sadness over the incident and offered condolences to the bereaved families.