Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 30 September 2020

Kerala plane crash: survivors relive terrifying final moments as doomed jet split into two

Shell-shocked passengers rescued from the wreckage feel lucky to be alive in a tragedy that killed 18

Latest: Kerala's 'tabletop airport' should never have been used in bad weather, says top safety expert

A Dubai mother thought she was dead after blacking out when the Air India Express plane overshot the Kozhikode runway and crashed into a gorge below.

It was the voice of her three-year-old daughter, crying ummachi, ummachi (mommy, mommy), that pulled Mufeeda Kandy out of the darkness as she lay on the floor of a Boeing 737 that had cracked open.

Several seats away, another Dubai resident Ashraf Athalan struggled to release his seat belt and shouted for help along with other passengers.

“Help, save me,” said Mr Athalan as others too cried for help.

The survivors are among 172 people rescued from the mangled wreckage of the plane.

I thought I was dead. When I opened my eyes, it was totally dark and I couldn’t see anything. Then I heard my daughter cry for me

Mufeeda Kandy

They have recounted terrifying moments leading to Friday’s deadly accident in southern India that killed 18 passengers including two pilots.

“I thought I was dead. When I opened my eyes, it was totally dark and I couldn’t see anything. Then I heard my daughter cry for me,” said Ms Kandy.

“Some people then switched on the flash lights of their mobile phones. All my pain went away when I saw my daughter was safe.”

The 28-year-old mother is recovering in a Kozhikode hospital from multiple fractures to her head, jaw, eye and limbs.

Her daughter Laila Parambil miraculously escaped with just a bruise on her forehead.

The sight of bleeding passengers around her is an image Ms Kandy wants to forget.

Mufeeda Kandy, 28, and her three-year-old daughter Laila Parambil. The photograph was taken from a hospital bed in Kozhikode city where Ms Kandy is being treated for multiple injuries. Courtesy: Mufeeda Kandy
Mufeeda Kandy, 28, and her three-year-old daughter Laila Parambil. Courtesy: Mufeeda Kandy

“There were so many people with injuries in the stomach and neck, I don’t want to remember all that," she said.

She said she can clearly recall the pilot’s voice towards the end of a four-hour journey from Dubai when he announced the plane was approaching Kozhikode airport.

“Children were singing and clapping, you could hear them playing happily. The flight was expected to arrive on time at 7.10pm and the pilot said we would reach in 30 minutes. But then, 45 minutes passed and there was no update,” she said.

“I could hear people asking why we had not landed yet. Then the pilot said we were approaching the airport. We saw the runway lights and at that point, no one knew there would be any problem with landing. We still felt safe.”

Laila Parambil is one of the survivors. The three-year-old miraculously escaped with just a bruise on her forehead. Courtesy: Mufeeda Kandy
Laila Parambil is one of the survivors. The three-year-old miraculously escaped with just a bruise on her forehead. Courtesy: Mufeeda Kandy

She said that as the plane descended, passengers could feel the speed while landing was faster than usual.

“It happened within seconds, there was no time to think."

She recollects hurtling into the seat in front when the plane hit the tarmac.

“I felt a vigorous jolt, heard very loud sounds and fell on the seat in front,” said Ms Kandy.

“I reached for my daughter. She had slipped out and fallen out of her seat. I could hear her crying ummachi (mommy) but I lost consciousness.”

When she recovered, Ms Kandy could not move and was carried out by the rescue crew who lifted passengers into ambulances amid heavy rain.

“The crew helped us get out. Some people walked out to the wing but it was too high up to jump off. I could not move my hands or legs. I was passed from one person to another until they got me to the ground,” she said

Ms Kandy requested staff in the ambulance to inform her father of the plane crash.

Her husband works in a Dubai retail store and she was returning home after a visit to the UAE earlier this year.

“When I spoke to my father and told him what had happened, we were all crying. There was another lady in the ambulance, everyone was crying,” she said.

Ms Kandy praised the crew and the two pilots who died.

“So many people lost their lives. We thank god and we thank the pilots. It is because of their courage that we are alive,” she said.

“I still sometimes can’t believe this has happened to us.”

Dubai resident Ashraf Athalan said he knew something was amiss when the plane picked up unusual speed.

“The pilot said we are reaching Calicut but after more than half an hour, there was nothing, no announcement,” said the 62-year-old grandfather who works in a grocery store in the Emirates and was returning to Kerala after coronavirus restrictions were eased.

“The plane was moving too fast and people were shouting. I have never felt such speed.

“I heard loud sounds and felt the tyres touchdown twice. I try not to think of what happened. I remember worrying because I could not remove the seat belt.

“Everyone was shouting, ‘save me.’ The rescuers and police told us not to worry. They said they would first help people who were badly injured.”

Mr Athalan is still in a lot of pain but is grateful to be alive.

“My hands and mouth are injured. I could not talk for a few days but I can slowly eat now. The pain I feel all over my body is nothing. I keep thinking of other people who have lost their family," he said.

India’s aviation ministry has launched an investigation into the cause of the crash of the aircraft that skidded off a tabletop runway and plunged into a 11-metre gorge in bad weather.

Updated: August 11, 2020 10:23 AM

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