x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Mangalore air crash victims remembered

Families of those who died on Air India Express flight gather for a multi-faith memorial at crash site as compensation process continues.

The scene shortly after Flight IX 812 overshot the runway and crashed at Mangalore airport on May 22.
The scene shortly after Flight IX 812 overshot the runway and crashed at Mangalore airport on May 22.

DUBAI // A marble plaque bearing the names of those who died when an Air India Express flight from Dubai crashed in Mangalore was unveiled at a memorial ceremony yesterday. Relatives of victims gathered at the crash site in memory of the 158 people killed in the disaster early on May 22.

The service was attended by Arvind Jadhav, the chairman of Air India, the carrier's parent company, and MM Nambiar, India's secretary of civil aviation. Air India had arranged for relatives to attend the memorial. They arrived from districts including Bhatkal, Udipi, Dakshin Kannada and Kasargod. Priests from the Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian faiths spoke at the service. Mourners said it was a moving experience.

"All relatives placed wreaths on the memorial and remembered them," said P Ranganath, who lost his brother-in-law, his brother-in-law's wife and their 11-year-old daughter. They had been on a short trip to the Middle East, visiting relatives. "He just went to Muscat for a few days to pick up his wife and daughter. Now they are all gone for ever," said Mr Ranganath. "The entire family was wiped out."

Most of those on the plane had been returning to the subcontinent for holidays. Seven survivors were at the memorial. Abdullah Puttur Ismail, who escaped the crash with minor injuries, said of the service: "Parents, children and everyone there were crying. They came up to me and wept. It was a very difficult moment. "The names of the passengers engraved in the plaque will remind everyone of this tragedy. It is important that we do not forget this incident and we do not let it happen again."

Mr Ismail worked at Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai as a salesman. However, he remains in India as he lost his passport in the crash and cannot return to the UAE. Not all relatives who wanted to attend the service were able to be there. Suraj Rao, 19, who lost his parents, was in Dubai completing documentation that will enable him to finalise their affairs. His father was a doctor in Fujairah and had taken the flight to visit him.

"I wanted to be there but could not make it," said Mr Rao. "I will visit the site once I go back to India." Flight IX 812 was carrying 166 people when it crashed after overshooting the runway on arrival in Mangalore. It was one of India's worst air disasters in recent years. There were 19 children on board, all of whom died. The families of most of the victims were based in Dubai. For days, they struggled to get to Mangalore to identify the remains of their loved ones.

Those who lost relatives have received interim compensation from Air India, which amounts to Dh78,371 for those 12 and older and Dh39,185 for children under 12. Final compensation payments are still pending. Yesterday, Air India arranged for relatives to meet lawyers and legal advisers to discuss the claims process. "We hope we can get some clarity about forms we have to fill and documentation we have to submit for the loss-of-life claim that has also to be submitted," said Mr Ranganath.

Most relatives had found it difficult to obtain documents from local authorities that were needed to complete legal formalities in India, he said. The airline has launched an inquiry into crash and its report is expected to be released later this year. Air India is conducting the investigation as it is a federally owned company. The company has yet to release any updates regarding the state of its review of the accident or the causes behind it. @Email:rtalwar@thenational.ae @Email:pmenon@thenational.ae