He saved our lives: Air India Express plane crash survivors laud brave pilot

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Survivors of Friday’s plane crash in Kerala’s Kozhikode said the aircraft’s captain, who was killed, helped save their lives as he used his presence of mind and averted a fire after the accident.

At least 20 people were killed, including the two pilots, and more than 100 injured when the Air India Express passenger plane repatriating Indians stranded by the coronavirus pandemic from Dubai overshot the runway in heavy rain.

The Boeing-737 flight from Dubai to Calicut International Airport was carrying 190 passengers and crew, including 10 infants, the civil aviation ministry said in a statement.

Survivors said the brave pilot and vigilant local residents averted a major tragedy. They said people rushed to the spot and retrieved them before help came in as they entered the plane ignoring the smoke and minor fire.

Wing Commander Deepak Vasant Sathe was an ace Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter with a 22-year career. Sathe, 59, was awarded the coveted “sword of honour” (a recognition of his skills) when he graduated from the Air Force Academy at Dundigal near Hyderabad in June 1981.

The former IAF fighter, an alumnus of the prestigious National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla, was also an accomplished test pilot.

“It was raining heavily. The pilot had given a warning before landing saying the weather was really bad. 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,” V Ibrahim, one of the passengers who survived with minor injuries, said.

Out of the 190 people on board, 123 people have been injured and 20 are in serious condition, said hospital sources adding some of them received spinal cord injuries in the impact.

Officials said 38 passengers are in Kozhikode MIMS Hospital, 28 in Baby Memorial Hospital and 14 in Medical College Hospital.

It was India’s worst passenger aircraft accident since 2010, when another Air India Express flight from Dubai overshot the table-top runway at Mangalore and slid down a hill, killing 158 people.

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