From the last row of the plane, Muhammed Junaid sensed something was wrong as Air India Express IX 1344 from Dubai approached the South Indian city of Kozhikode. The machine crashed during the Friday landing, killing 18 people in the crash. Junaid only left it with a headache, but he doesn’t want to fly anymore.
A Boeing 737-8HG from Dubai fell out of its runway and crashed less than ten meters away at its destination Kozhikode airport in the Indian state of Kerala around 7:40 PM local time. The machine landed in heavy rain and poor visibility. After the impact, the fuselage split in two. The runway is on a hill with deep gorges on either side, and is considered difficult by pilots.
Eighteen of the 190 people on board, including both pilots, died in India’s worst passenger plane accident since 2010. Sixteen people were seriously injured. The flight from Dubai was a repatriation flight to bring citizens home while international travel restrictions still continue due to the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
“Thank God I’m fine”
Muhammed Junaid, like many others on board, was forced to return home when his salary was cut in half due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After the crash, he said that he sensed something was wrong when the plane had to face a strong wind as it approached the airport. He reported that the Boeing, instead of slowing down, seemed to pick up speed, crossing the runway slippery from the torrential rain and racing down the steep slope. Eventually it broke in two. “It all happened in 15 seconds,” the man said in a telephone interview with the Reuters news agency.
Junaid and several other passengers in the rear of the plane left the wreckage almost unscathed at Calicut International Airport near Kozhikode. He was home in Elathur by midnight, an hour from the airport. His head ached from hitting the ceiling, and blood was leaking from his bitten lips. “Thank God I’m fine,” he concluded.
“I was very excited to meet my family”
Junaid, 25, moved to Dubai three years ago to work as an accountant for a trading firm. As he said, as the only breadwinner for a family of four, he sent home half of his monthly earnings of four thousand dirhams (about four thousand zlotys).
After the outbreak of the pandemic, his company’s profits diminished, and he received half his salary. “My boss told me to take two or three months off and come back when all is well,” he said.
Attempts to reach home have been hampered as India closed its international borders in March. Junaid said he enrolled in the government’s repatriation flight program but received no response for two months. On August 1, he was informed that flights would be available for two weeks between Dubai and Kerala.
“I was returning to India after almost two years, so I was very excited to meet my family and everyone,” he said.
He thought it was over
A few seats in front of Junaid sat 28-year-old Muhammad Shafaf, who was also returning home from Dubai after spending seven months there, looking for work unsuccessfully.
When the plane fell off the runway and fell down the hill, Shafaf thought it was over. He was afraid that a fire would break out on board and he would die. – The cabin crew in the back assured us there was no need to worry about the fire. One of the women said the engine was off, said Shafaf, who only came out of the crash with bruises on his nose and feet.
“I don’t want to fly again”
Junaid said he remembers how the cabin crew soothed passengers and helped those who were crushed between the damaged seats.
After 45 minutes of waiting, while rescuers helped passengers to get out of the crashed front of the plane, Junaid and the rest of the people in the rear were led out of the wreckage.
Junaid is resting at home waiting for the coronavirus test. He said he wanted to stay away from planes. “I’m really scared,” he said. “I don’t want to fly again,” he added.
Main photo source: PAP / EPA / CIVIL DEFENSE / HANDOUT