Kerala crash: Pilot who died was a celebrated ex-IAF officer
Had it not been for the deceased pilots, Wing Commander Deepak Vasant Sathe and Captain Akhilesh Kumar, the unfortunate Air India Express flight would have caught fire and taken more lives, survivors of last evening's crash said. In the accident, the worst one in India's aviation history in years, 18 people have died so far, including a decorated former officer of IAF. Here's more.
Background: Plane skidded, was torn into two
The Boeing 737 aircraft, which carried 191 people, was flying in from Dubai. Its landing was adversely affected by torrential rains, that have been wreaking havoc in Kerala for almost four days now. As per reports, the flight shot off the runway 10, split into two, and fell into a valley around 7:40 pm. DGCA informed that visibility was about 2,000 meter.
127 people are recuperating in hospitals: Union Minister Puri
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri confirmed on Saturday that 127 people are recuperating in different hospitals. He said the flight was being run as a part of the Vande Bharat Mission, launched by the Government of India to fly stranded Indians, stuck in various countries due to coronavirus pandemic, home. Puri added that a fire in the aircraft could have multiplied the woes.
Pilot tried safe landing twice but lost control: Survivor
Evidently, survivors of the crash hadn't seen anything like this before. One V Ibrahim told HT that it was raining heavily and that the pilots issued a warning before landing. "He tried for safe landing twice but lost control. The aircraft shot off the runway and skidded off and it broke into two pieces. It was a miraculous escape for many," he added.
Experienced pilot helped keep fatalities to a minimum
After the details emerged, it became clearer that the pilots helped avert a major tragedy. Perhaps, the 22-year-long IAF career of Commander Sathe, who was in the cockpit, came handy during the terrible situation. Commander Sathe had a splendid run at IAF. When he graduated from the Air Force Academy at Dundigal in 1981, he was awarded the "sword of honor."
He was an accomplished test pilot
An alumnus of National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla, Commander Sathe was also an accomplished test pilot. "Captain Deepak V Sathe was from the 58th course of the NDA. He was from the Juliet Squadron," Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale (Retd) told news agency PTI. Another officer who knew him said that Commander Sathe was awarded the 58 NDA President Gold Medal.
Commander Sathe loved playing squash, trained younger pilots
Air Marshal Gokhale also said that Commander Sathe was a brilliant squash player. Another IAF officer said, "He was an extremely skilled pilot who loved flying. He was a mentor to many young pilots." The 59-year-old deceased pilot is said to have taken premature retirement in 2003. He flew Airbus 310s for Air India before starting his stint with its subsidiary Air India Express.
Meanwhile, those who lost jobs were onboard the ill-fated aircraft
Notably, the repatriation flight was bringing home many who had lost their jobs, due to the pandemic. Some cited a medical emergency as a reason to board the flight. One person, who was due to get married, was also on the aircraft. Others whose visa had expired hopped on the plane as well. But to their misfortune, their much-awaited return became an unforgettable tragedy.