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Air India Plane Crash is Deadliest Since 1996 Killing 160

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by underthesea

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In The News

An Air India flight from Dubai crashed in Mangalore, at an airport open to international flights for less than four years, after overshooting the runway and killing at least 160. This is the deadliest plane crash in India since November 1996 crash.
166 passengers and crew were onboard the Boeing 737-800 jet, a plane believed to be 2-3 years old, new in comparison to the bulk of the Air India fleet, much of which needs upgrading or replacements. The rescue operation was complicated by rain and topography, as Flight IX-892 went down in a wooded valley about six miles from the runway. Cause of the plane crash is yet unknown and the debris field is being searched for the "black box," while air traffic control says it received no distress message nor any other communication from the pilot. Air traffic control was never notified of any suggestion that the plane was having mechanical or operational problems of any type.
The pilot was reportedly a Russian expatriate, the copilot Indian. The runway at the Mangalore airport is short, and what's termed a "tabletop" layout, with a flattened area carved out of mountainous terrain overlooking a valley; airplane pilots have a very slim margin for error.
The India airport, which only opened to international flights four short years ago, was shut down after the disaster that occurred at about 6:15 a.m. in the States. "This is a major calamity," V.S. Acharya, home minister for the state of Karnataka told CNN. Six survivors of the plane crash, pulled out alive, were rushed to a government hospital that contains a burn unit, located about 10 miles away. One survivor said that "there was a loud noise, followed by fire." "I managed to jump out of a broken window," he said. More than 15 fire trucks, 20 ambulances and 100 rescue workers were on-scene at the wreckage site. Wreckage included billowing smoke and a mangled wing resting almost vertically on a slope.
The crash is the deadliest in India since a November 1996 midair plane collision between a Saudi airliner and a Kazakh cargo plane that crashed near New Delhi and killed 349 people. Air India, a former monopoly, has a severely aging fleet and a poor on-time record. The airline company has struggled in recent years to compete with lower-cost private airlines, as the plane and flight industry has been deregulated. Air India Express, its low-cost arm, is part of the airline's effort to respond to a changing competitive landscape; Air India struggles under a $3.3-billion debt load.
Only half a year ago in October, the Air India airline hit news headlines after pilots and its flight crew got into a fistfight in front of passengers. The state-owned airline has had several mishaps over the years. Safety expert Mohan Ranganathan, former Air India pilot, said recently that India badly needs an independent regulator and safety board. June 2008, Air India Flight IC-162 from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, overshot the Mumbai airport by 45 miles after its pilots had fallen asleep. The pilots were jolted awake when air traffic controllers caused a loud buzzer to go off in the cockpit.
Flights from Dubai to other parts of India are typically filled to the maximum with Indians returning from manual labor and service jobs in the Middle East, in addition to those in high-tech professions and trades. Air travel has rebounded in India and the region after last year's slump, while economies have rebounded. India saw over four million air travel passengers in January, a 23% increase.
India is expected to be among the fastest-growing air travel markets in the world over the next 10 years, says Airbus, and over the next 20 years, Indian carriers will need 1,030 new aircraft worth $138 billion.

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