The two pilots of the Air India Express were among the 18 people killed in one of the worst air disasters witnessed in Kerala.
The Air India Express flight, returning from Dubai under the Vande Bharat mission, carrying around 190 people on board, skidded off the runway at the ‘table top’ Kozhikode airport, plunged 35 feet into the valley below and broke in two as it landed on its second attempt amid heavy rain on Friday.
The pilot-in-command Captain Deepak V Sathe and his co-pilot Captain Akhilesh Kumar were killed in the tragic air accident.
An alumnus of the National Defence Academy (NDA), Pune, Captain Sathe was a decorated former Air Force pilot.
Wing Commander Deepak V Sathe has flown the MiG-21 fighter aircraft with 17 Squadron (Golden Arrows) in Ambala before shifting to civilian flying and joining Air India.
Sathe had also served as an instructor at the Air Force Training Academy and had taken premature retirement from the IAF.
“Capt Deepak V Sathe was from 58th course of National Defence Academy, Pune. He was from Juliet Squadron,” Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale (Retd) told PTI.
“Sathe passed out from Air Force Academy with Sword of Honour in June 1981 and was a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force,” he added.
He was also awarded the 58 NDA President Gold Medal and had been a test pilot for the Indian Air Force.
Capt Sathe had a 30-year-long and accident-free flying record, including around 18 years with Air India. He was described as very experienced in flying Boeing 737 planes.
Meanwhile, a pall of gloom descended on the Powai suburb in north-east Mumbai following the death of Capt Sathe, who was a resident of Jalvayu Building in Powai.
According to local residents, he is survived by two sons, one of whom lives in Bengaluru while the other is in the US. They are expected to reach Kerala soon.
He is also remembered as an excellent squash player.
Although, there are no official remarks, several people including the survivors have credited Capt Deepak V Sathe with saving their lives.
It has been reported that the pilot-in-command had turned off the plane’s engine right before the crash, thus ensuring that it didn’t catch fire upon landing or the results of the painful tragedy could have been much worse.
According to flight-tracking website FlightRadar24, the crashed aircraft had circled the airport several times and made two attempts to land.
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”.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), in a statement said that 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.
Meanwhile, the Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) or the black box has been recovered from the aircraft and the floorboard is being cut to retrieve the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR).
The DGCA has ordered a detailed inquiry into the Kerala plane accident.